Drag Teen

by Noe Kamelamela

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday April 26, 2016

I am happy "Drag Teen" exists. When I was a teenager, I would have seen a book like it, with its eye-catching fluorescent yellow and hot pink cover art, and been immediately drawn to it. Creeping over to it in a library, I would have read it slowly over several weeks, never bothering to check it out of circulation, but always saving my spot and being sad whenever the book left its appointed shelf. Truthfully, it's a lot less transgressive than the title suggests, more of a "Drag Teen ends up accepting himself" instead of "Drag Teen saves the world with radical gender presentation," but still the book ends up being a subversive piece.

This debut novel is a delightful young adult comedy that never devolves into harmful negativity. Now, a Scholastic imprint for teens is releasing "Drag Teen" at this particular time: it is a good sign of a quiet revolution. The main character is just a teenage boy, JT. He doesn't have hangups about being a boy who loves another boy, rather, his fears are centered around his future, particularly what comes after high school. What makes him unique is his type of drag or in his case the art of dressing up as a woman and singing. His special gifts don't exactly make him the star of his town, or garner him extra praise, but they are an obvious passion which is enough for his boyfriend Seth to sign him up for a teen drag pageant several states away.

This is a nearly swear free, sex free, violence free comedy of errors with little to no objectionable content.

The road trip and subsequent pageant are a swear-free, sex-free, violence-free comedy of errors. In general, there is nothing too objectionable about the book. Even the bullying JT experiences seem to come from a genuinely caring place. Heartfelt and sweet, this is the type reading even a child in the eighth grade could easily digest. I suggest that age due to the geographical and social context necessary to understand the plot, not even due to the mentions of gender and sexuality. There's little to no personal handwringing regarding gender and sex, and that too is a revelation.

Five years ago, a book like this may have been submitted, but not necessarily published. I would put this kind of a piece in the same category as "George" by Alex Gino, a piece of fiction written from the perspective of a transgendered fourth grader. Overall, I think it's a triumph when publishers push for diversity and attempt to mainstream ideas and concepts which five years earlier may have been considered taboo.

"Drag Teen"
By Jeffery Self

Noe Kamelamela is a reader who reads everything and a writer who writes very little.