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A father for ten years, a mother for eight, and for a time in between, neither, or both ("the parental version of the schnoodle, or the cockapoo"), Jennifer Finney Boylan has seen parenthood from both sides of the gender divide. When her two children were young, Boylan came out as transgender, and as Jenny transitioned from a man to a woman and from a father to a mother, her family faced unique challenges and questions. In this thoughtful, tear-jerking, hilarious memoir, Jenny asks what it means to be a father, or a mother, and to what extent gender shades our experiences as parents. "It is my hope," she writes, "that having a father who became a woman in turn helped my sons become better men."
Through both her own story and incredibly insightful interviews with others, including Richard Russo, Edward Albee, Ann Beattie, Augusten Burroughs, Susan Minot, Trey Ellis, Timothy Kreider, and more, Jenny examines relationships with fathers and mothers, people's memories of the children they were and the parents they became, and the many different ways a family can be. Followed by an Afterword by Anna Quindlen that includes Jenny and her wife discussing the challenges they've faced and the love they share, "Stuck in the Middle with You" is a brilliant meditation on raising - and on being - a child.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-01-14
- Reviewer: Staff
In a mixed-bag follow-up memoir to her previous account of transitioning from male to female (She’s Not There), Boylan, who teaches writing at Colby College, Maine, enlists different perspectives by writers and others to explore in depth how parenting involves much more than birthing. Married to Deirdre “Deedee” Finney Boylan for 25 years, with two biological sons now college age, Boylan records in engaging short narratives her complicated process of evolving as a parent, from being a father (“Jim”) for six years, a mother for 10, and throughout embracing a “flexible” and “openhearted” approach that has proven remarkably successful and long-lasting. Boylan writes honestly about the enormous toll her transitioning took on the family, the sense of “loss” they all suffered when she became a woman in 2000, the anxieties she and Deedee felt over the children’s reaction to public censure, dread that the kids harbored their own dark secrets, and annoyance at other’s people’s inability to use the right pronoun. Moreover, several notable writers contribute chapters about subjects such as fatherhood (Richard Russo), being a misfit (Edward Albee), and motherhood (Ann Beattie). The jumble of voices closes with a surprisingly hard-hitting interview of the author and partner by novelist Anna Quindlen, who asked Deedee: “When you look at Jenny, do you ever see Jim?” Agent: Kris Dahl, ICM. (Apr.)
Parenting from both sides
Best-selling memoirist Jennifer Finney Boylan returns with an engaging parenting memoir/handbook for the “new normal” American family. While Finney’s 2004 memoir She’s Not There explored her transition from male to female and its initial impact on her family and community, Stuck in the Middle With You examines the long-term influence of her transition on her two sons and the experience of parenting them. “What kind of men will my children become,” Boylan wonders, “having been raised by a father who became a woman?”
The short answer is “lucky.” Blessed with two loving parents who remain together after Boylan becomes a woman, the boys seem like well-adjusted, smart and funny teenagers. Theirs is an eminently happy and functional family that has adjusted well to the evolution of one of the parents. Fans of dysfunctional family memoirs will have to look elsewhere for drama. The true value of this book lies in the larger conversation it seeks to open concerning the idea of the “typical” American family. Ultimately, Stuck in the Middle With You is a frank and funny advice manual for parenting outside the box.
Boylan expands her focus outside her own family to look at a wide variety of American families in a sequence of interviews with literary luminaries and gender outlaws. Richard Russo, Augusten Burroughs, Edward Albee and Ann Beattie all offer perspectives on parents and parenting in conversation with Boylan. This beautifully expands the focus of the book from the story of one family to a round-table discussion on what it means to be a mother or a father, or whether we should drop such gendered terms in favor of simply being a parent. Generous, expansive and open-hearted, Stuck in the Middle With You initiates a conversation and invites us to join.