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Birthday by Meredith Russo - Review

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Where did I get it? I had it on pre-order because I loved If I Was Your Girl so much and had also heard really amazing things about this book. I picked it up straight away because I was so looking forward to reading it. 

What's it about? Okay so Morgan and Eric have been friends literally since they were born - one September night during a freak snow storm in the same hospital in Thebes, Tennessee. Their families have always been close and they always spend their birthday together. In the book we see them on their birthday at age 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18. 

At the beginning of the book Morgan has just lost her mum to cancer and shortly afterwards quit the school football team even though she was a star player. Her dad is the football coach and now seems disappointed that Morgan, who he thinks is his son, has quit. Morgan is pretty sure that she is trans, that she's really a girl, but she can't find the words to say it. 

Eric, meanwhile, lives in a pretty dysfunctional family where his parents row a lot. His older brother Isaac is off playing college football, and his dad, Carson, is a nasty bully who is angry because middle brother Peyton had to drop out of football. He likes music (I loved this fact, as someone hugely also into music) and just really maybe isn't that into football.

On their 13th birthday Morgan tries to tell Eric that she's trans but can't. Over the next few birthdays we see their relationship disintegrate. Morgan disappears into herself a lot, having her first kiss with a girl called Jasmine, who thinks she's a gay boy. Eric finds a girlfriend. Morgan suffers a lot of homophobic bullying and Eric sometimes stands up for her and sometimes not. Somehow they always manage to come together on their birthdays.

At one point Morgan decides to go back to football. We see the team lose a game and then Morgan gets into a fight. Eric later saves her and it's a huge turning point in the book.

I do want to say that it has a happy ending. I don't think that's too much of a spoiler, and I do think that trans people deserve to see lots of happy endings for trans characters in books and I was really glad myself because the middle is very hard going and I felt so sad. 

Even thought I live in the UK where high school football isn't a thing, I like this background because it feels so cloying and claustrophobic and because it's obvious that for a kid like Eric, playing college football might be the only way he gets to leave Thebes and get away from his family. I think that's a universal concept regardless of football/sports. 

I absolutely loved both main characters. I think they're so soft with each other even when it's difficult and even when the other is being nasty. I loved how they each tried to navigate really difficult feelings for each other. I would've liked more, in parts, more explanation of what happened after a given birthday, but I understand that that wasn't the way the book was written and I liked how I had to fill in some of the blanks for myself. 

I cannot wait to see what Meredith writes next. I know she's written about trans girls so far, in two different ways, but I also think she has a fantastic way with words and can narrate a character's inner voice so beautifully. Gorgeous. Just gorgeous. 

What age range is it for? I'm going to say 13+, since that's the age of the characters at the beginning. 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Obviously! I will warn for homophobic and transphobic bullying and violence. 

Are any main characters people of colour? They're not main characters, but there are a couple of Mexican-Americans who also have slurs and bullying thrown their way. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No. 

Is there any sex stuff? A little bit; it's not graphic. 

Are drugs mentioned or used? A little bit

Is there any talk of death? Yes, some of it is graphic, so be careful. 

Are there swear words? A few 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none - I would've just liked a longer book but that's hardly the book's fault!

Would I recommend the book? One hundred percent

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I was just so desperate to read it!

What do I think of the cover? This is a new question on my blog! I saw a thread on Twitter which explained why praising covers and their authors is a good thing. So here I go: I think this is a really lovely cover - we get an idea of both Eric's and Morgan's characters, and it shows their equal importance within the book. 

What other books is it like? It is like If I Was Your Girl, but it also reminded me of Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit which has the same small town feel, and I'm sure something else which had a lot of stuff about high school football but which I can't find now. Sorry!

How many stars? Five out of five. 

Where is the book going now? I will definitely keep it!

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