Overall rating: 4/5
Genre: Fiction, LGBTQ+
Read if you loved: Never quite read anything like this, but The Mothers and The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett come to mind as books with comparable themes
Content warnings: Miscarriage, abuse, fetishism, transphobia, abortion, HIV/AIDS phobia, suicide, animal cruelty (brief)
Detransition, Baby follows the lives of three individuals – both transgender and cisgender – whose paths interconnect in a way they never expected. Ames’ life takes a sudden turn when he learns that his dalliances with his boss, Katrina, have resulted in a pregnancy. But what Katrina does not know is that Ames recently detransitioned, and fatherhood is a fate that he is not quite ready to face. Grappling with the uncertainty, Ames turns to his ex-girlfriend Reese, a trans woman who has only ever wanted a baby, in the hopes that forming an unconventional family might provide all three of them with what they need. Provocative, vulnerable, and deeply moving, Detransition, Baby dives fearlessly into the most stigmatized topics in societal discourse around gender, sex, race, and motherhood that will push you out of your comfort zone.
The second I started reading Detransition, Baby, I knew I was way out of my depth. No longer was I reading it from the lens of a reviewer, taking meticulous notes and evaluating all elements of the narrative, but as someone fascinated by a story that she has never encountered before. My notes devolved into nonsensical platitudes that do nothing to really get into how special this book is. As a cis-gendered, straight female, I can’t sit here and dissect the characters’ psychology or behavior because my own identity institutes an inherent gap in understanding, one that can be partially bridged by empathy, but never completely. What I can do, however, is tell you how much I enjoyed this book and tell you to read it.
From the flawed yet compelling characters to the sardonic, witty writing, this book is so refreshingly honest and raw that it took my breath away at times. I felt intimately familiar with these characters, particularly Reese, as Peters lifts up the stones in the darkest corners of her psyche, laying what festers there bare in the daylight for viewers to grapple with. Their relationships with each other are even more messy, and just as hard to read as they are to look away from. I won’t lie to you – it is difficult at times, and I can see this book being highly polarizing due to the nature of its content. But you know what? The point of Detransition, Baby is not to create a comfortable space for people like me to engage with the material. It is not to educate and hold our hands through the plot. It is the opposite. Peters is writing for trans women, encapsulating their experiences and lives with no effort to soften the blow of the often depressing and tragic content. She does not hold back, and I am here for it.
There were some parts of the storytelling that I personally struggled with. As much as I enjoyed Peters’ writing style for the most part, there were definitely moments in which it got quite dense. Some of the verbiage became highly technical and read more as non-fiction momentarily, pulling me out of the story itself. This difficulty with staying engaged was made worse by the very long chapter lengths. I know this is personal, but it’s just harder for me to stay focused in book formats with long parts. The other issue I had was with Ames’ storyline. There is so much going on in this book and while we start off learning about both Ames and Reese, the former sort of…fizzles out? I wish his storyline was rounded out a little bit better and given the same type of attention that Reese received.
Despite some of the writing-specific challenges in this book, I still firmly believe that this is something everyone needs to read. It speaks volumes that this is one of the first books by a trans woman to be issued by one of the big five publishing houses. It has been longlisted for the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction as well, so I’m hoping its recognition will result in more mainstream success for queer authors, particularly trans authors. It has also been picked up for a TV adaptation, and wow can I not wait for that! Did you read Detransition, Baby? What did you think?