This is my Bingo choice for Own Voices and it’s simultaneously a great one and a terrible one in that it is a fictional book written by a transgender lesbian author about the struggles of changing one’s body to reflect a changing understanding of ones self, and the love the protagonist has for her same-sex roommate. Perfect, right?
The body she’s changing into is a non-human one, not because she has never felt at home with herself, but because their telepathic hormonal communication works better in a body like their own and she wants to be closer to an alien “Gelet” who has saved her from execution in a repressive society. The romantic feelings she has expressed for her roommate are not only unreciprocated, they’re never actually explicitly stated; it is only implied with the characters’ devotion to one another and devastation when one believed the other dead. The closest to making the romantic nature of the friendship explicit occurs at the end of the book when our protagonist Sophie shares a memory with her beloved Bianca using her new telepathy and finds that she shared more than she intended, more than she ever admitted to herself. Bianca is as horrified by her dear friend’s new tentacles as she is by the knowledge that her love was more than platonic.
I really love so much about this book, and the alien world is richly drawn, but I have a feeling that this should have been three books rather than one. There’s quite a bit of time compression here and as a result the relationship between Bianca and Sophie is a bit flat, even if Sophie’s feelings read well. You know she loves Bianca, her feelings are well written, but who the hell knows why. The politics are a bit muddled too, serving to highlight how outright repression and carte blanche are damaging in their own ways, but it’s a backdrop for the romance and the transformation that takes up a lot of time and introduces too many characters. A book that wants to say this much needs more room to say it, but that’s praise by faint damming given that my one drawback is there wasn’t more of the book.