A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that there's underage drinking, a broken marriage, homophobia, sex, bisexual friends, and a girl that transforms into a boy every month during her period (well-described). Yep, you heard right. This book is sure to present questions on gay, lesbian, and transgender lifestyles, as well as questions about sex in general.
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What's the story?
Jill changes into a boy every month during her period. It's weird, it's awful, and it complicates the important things in life, like prom, hanging with her best friend, and her crush on Tommy. Things begin to get even more crazy when "Jack," Jill's male alter ego, becomes stronger and stronger and begins to exert his will over Jill's life. Now that Jack and Jill are competing for the same space, things are going to get tough.
Is it any good?
CYCLER starts of with a bang and confusion, and that confusion continues throughout the book. Jill becomes a boy "Jack" for four days during her period and the author, Lauren McLaughlin, examines Jill's relationships through both Jill's and her alter ego Jack's eyes. We see her parents' very troubled and dysfunctional marriage, we see a close and sexually charged relationship with her best friend, and the relationship with her crush Tommy. It's easy to see how McLaughlin draws parallels between Jill's confusing relationships and her sexual identity issues.
The book does several things really well: It uses Jill's transformation to grapple with the feelings of teens who are gay, bisexual, or transgendered while highlighting acceptance issues among friends, families, and schoolmates. It's also pretty funny at times. What it doesn't do well is make a case for the ending. It's ambiguous and issues of sexuality aren't resolved in the length of a novel or even a lifetime, but that's being generous. The audience will likely find themselves wanting more of an explanation of Jill's condition, her parents' marriage woes, and more.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the differences between the sexes and if the differences are a product of environment or genetics or both. What would you do in Jill/Jack's shoes? How would it make your life more complicated? How is life more difficult for the bisexual student? Families can also talk about the different types of discrimination people can encounter.