Welcome to one of the last stops on the Raincoast Books blog tour for award-winning author Meredith Russo‘s latest YA novel, Birthday! Read on for my thoughts on the novel, and please be sure to take a look at the postcard at the bottom of the post and check out the rest of the participating bloggers.
Two best friends. A shared birthday. Six years. . .
ERIC:There was the day we were born. There was the minute Morgan and I decided we were best friends for life. The years where we stuck by each other’s side – as Morgan’s mom died, as he moved across town, as I joined the football team, as my parents started fighting. But sometimes I worry that Morgan and I won’t be best friends forever. That there’ll be a day, a minute, a second, where it all falls apart and there’s no turning back the clock.
MORGAN:I know that every birthday should feel like a new beginning, but I’m trapped in this mixed-up body, in this wrong life, in Nowheresville, Tennessee, on repeat. With a dad who cares about his football team more than me, a mom I miss more than anything, and a best friend who can never know my biggest secret. Maybe one day I’ll be ready to become the person I am inside. To become her. To tell the world. To tell Eric. But when?
Six years of birthdays reveal Eric and Morgan’s destiny as they come together, drift apart, fall in love, and discover who they’re meant to be – and if they’re meant to be together. From the award-winning author of If I Was Your Girl, Meredith Russo, comes a heart-wrenching and universal story of identity, first love, and fate.
Alternating between the first-person narratives of Morgan and Eric, Birthday begins when our protagonists- best friends who share the same birthday- turn thirteen, and revisits Morgan and Eric on their birthdays each year to the age of eighteen. When they turn thirteen and are celebrating at a water park with their families, Morgan is close to bursting and needs to tell Eric something momentous and also terrifying: that she was assigned the wrong gender at birth. But what is Morgan, football player, with a grieving, distant football coach father, stuck in the small and (presented-as) crumbling, dead-end town of Thebes, Tennessee, to do? Morgan wants to tell Eric, her best friend, closest confidante, person who means everything-in-the-world to her, but holds back year after year, to mostly catastrophic turns. Hate, homophobia, and bigotry run rampant in Morgan’s world- from adults who ignore and/or dismiss the abuse hurled, to classmates and teens who are exceedingly hateful and prejudiced. As Morgan struggles and moves back and forth between moving forward to become her true self as a young woman and the seemingly infinitesimal possibility of breaking from her life in Tennessee, Eric himself is simultaneously dealing with a threatening, abusive father, a family tearing apart, and complex feelings for Morgan. What I adore about Russo’s writing is that, even in overwhelming sadness and tragedy, and overwhelming anger and dissolution, there are rays of hope…of kindness…of intense love…of something to show that the world her characters inhabit (and that we inhabit) is not all grim and execrable. Without giving away too much here, I do want to note that Eric and Morgan do have beautiful, hopeful moments- moments that counter the ugliness they have had to endure- and Russo gives hopeful readers weighty and gloriously incandescent denouements to characters we have come to know, love, and feel keenly for.
With terrific reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, as well as a starred review from ALA Booklist, Meredith Russo’s Birthday is the author’s second excellent novel and another not-to-be-missed read. Intensely heartbreaking- at times, almost too much for a heart to bear-gorgeously written and achingly hopeful and beautiful, Birthday is a real standout. Readers who have previously read Russo’s revolutionary If I Was Your Girl, and those who are fans of authors such as Kacen Callender, Claire Kann, Nina LaCour, Jeff Zentner, S.K. Ali, or Alex Gino might especially be interested in reading this excellent, deeply heart-rending novel.
(Note: Related to trans author voices, as Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl was one of the first broadly published books featuring a trans protagonist written by a trans woman: be sure to check out this crucial list, from Ray Stoeve).
I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review and for the purposes of this blog tour. All opinions and comments are my own.