Book Review: The Passing Playbook by Isaac Fitzsimons

The Passing Playbook

Author: Isaac Fitzsimons

Narrator: Jamie K. Brown

Publication Date: 01 June 2021

Genre: YA – Contemporary Romance

Length: 7 hours

Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio

Love, Simon meets Friday Night Lights in this feelgood LGBTQ+ romance about a trans teen torn between standing up for his rights and staying stealth.

‘A sharply observant and vividly drawn debut. I loved every minute I spent in this story’ – Becky Albertalli

Fifteen-year-old Spencer Harris is a proud nerd, an awesome big brother and a Messi-in-training. He’s also transgender. After transitioning at his old school leads to a year of bullying, Spencer gets a fresh start at Oakley, the most liberal private school in Ohio.

At Oakley, Spencer seems to have it all: more accepting classmates, a decent shot at a starting position on the boy’s soccer team, great new friends, and maybe even something more than friendship with one of his teammates. The problem is, no one at Oakley knows Spencer is trans – he’s passing.

So when a discriminatory law forces Spencer’s coach to bench him after he discovers the ‘F’ on Spencer’s birth certificate, Spencer has to make a choice: cheer his team on from the sidelines or publicly fight for his right to play, even if it means coming out to everyone – including the guy he’s falling for.

Trigger Warnings: transphobia, bullying, ousting, religious propaganda, homophobia, misgendering

Gah! Where do I even start with this review that isn’t just incoherent screams. This is one of those books that I think should be required reading for all young people (adults too!) especially with the sweeping anti-trans legislation that has come to light.

The Passing Playbook follows 15 year old Spencer Harris (Black; biracial) who recently transferred schools in hopes of starting over following a traumatic experience after he came out as transgendered at his previous school. Now that he’s at Oakley, the possibilities are endless, which includes playing for the boy’s soccer team. To everyone else, this wasn’t an issue, but no one knows that Spencer is trans. Things quickly escalate for Spencer when an anti-trans law jeopardizes his eligibility.

First off, I absolutely loved Spencer as a character. He’s so unapologetic about his identity and space even when his parents still struggle with the idea that they need to protect him. He’s passionate, talented, compassionate, and just wants to be like other teenage boys.

In regards to Spencer’s parents, it is so rare to read about a protagonist that has full parental support in terms of medically transitioning. This was definitely a first for me, and I think this is something that we need more of on page.

I loved Spencer’s little brother who is autistic. His brother immediately accepted Spencer as soon as Spencer announced that he was trans without ever misgendering. It was a reminder that kids can and do understand what it means for someone to embrace their true selves regardless of the previous labels that society gave them.

Spencer’s love interest, Justice was such a dichotomy to Spencer’s character. Justice comes from an incredibly religious family that does not accept queerness whatsoever. This is complicated by the fact that Justice’s family literally relies on help from their church just to be able to have the bare necessities in life. There were definitely moments that I didn’t agree with Justice being put in the situation he was (being forced out), but I understand why the contrast was made in comparison to Spencer.

Overall, this book was incredible, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Thank you Penguin Random House Audio for providing a review copy. This did not influence my review. All opinions are my own.

Isaac Fitzsimons is the author of The Passing Playbook (Dial BFYR/PRH, 2021). He writes Young Adult fiction featuring intentionally marginalized characters so that every reader can see themselves reflected in literature.

His background includes performing sketch comedy in college, learning how to play three songs on the banjo, and, of course, writing.

His dream vacation would be traveling around Europe via sleeper train to see every top-tier soccer team play a home game. He currently lives outside DC and works for an arts advocacy nonprofit in the city.

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Novels: The Passing Playbook (2021)


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