Books Reviews

REVIEW: “Being Emily” by Rachel Gold

One of the things I really love about attending the GCLS Conference each year is that I get the opportunity to meet new authors and get exposed to new reading opportunities.  This year was no different.  I got to meet Rachel Gold this year in Minneapolis.  Additionally, I was able to attend two sessions that Gold was involved in – Author Readings and “So I had this idea…”  Both were fun and informative – we got to hear Gold read some sections from her novel, Being Emily (Bella Books), and we got to hear her talk about where the idea to write this book came from.  Fascinating stuff.

The novel tells a “year-in-the-life” story about Emily, who was born Christopher.  It happens to be one of the most crucial years of Emily’s life – it’s the year that a lifetime of pretending to be Christopher reaches a turning point.  We get to follow our hero/heroine through the year and tag along when the truth is finally out – it’s time to put Christopher aside, and finally start being Emily.

I admit to a bit of trepidation as I began reading this book.  It’s the “T” in LGBT that has always been the most elusive for me – I’d never been exposed to it.  No, that’s not true.  Back in the 90’s, I hired a recruiter who was a former employee…the first time he was employed with the company, he went by “Sarah”.  Other than needing that bit of information to pull up his old records to determine rehire eligibility, this news did not have a substantial impact on my life.  He was a good employee and a good human being – that’s what mattered.  The rest was really none of my business.

Perhaps that is an overly simplistic way of looking at things.  But, there it is.

What I truly appreciated about Gold’s novel is how she used point of view.  For all intents and purposes, this was told completely from Emily’s point of view.  Not Christopher’s.  It was clear from the first two paragraphs that the “true self” of the storyteller was dominant.  And it was right at that point – so early in the book – that I knew Emily had won.

Well, wouldn’t that sort of spoil the book?  I mean, since I kind of know right then that “being Emily” was actually a full reality, do I need to bother to read it?  Yes.  It didn’t spoil the book for me at all.  Instead, it made it about the journey.  It’s that journey that is so very important.

I appreciated that we got some of the story from the view point of Claire, the girlfriend who stands by Emily through that very rough year.  What was very interesting is that Claire’s part of the story was told in 3rd person point of view.  (Emily’s story is in 1st person.)  This keeps the focus where it needs to be – on Emily.  But we still get those glimpses of someone close to and supportive of Emily navigating her own way through the situation and circumstances.  She struggles to understand what Emily is going through.

What I really love is Gold’s use of Claire as a religious sounding board.  And she does so in a way that religion – Christianity, in particular, it seems – is not lambasted.  Claire represents what the majority of Christians in this world are actually like – people doing their best to follow the example of Christ.  It’s simple:  we try to love each other as Christ loves us.  It would have been so easy to dump all Christians into the barrel labeled “Right-Wing, Extremist, Religious Nut-Case” and be done with it – people would buy it.   Gold took the harder route – and, ultimately, the more accurate route.  (That degree in English and Religious Studies served her well.)  As a Christian – a Catholic, at that – I was waiting for something to come along that would offend me.  It never happened.  I was able to find a bit of myself in Claire.  For that, I give my thanks.

The back of the book lists Being Emily as “Fiction:  LGBT/Young Adult.”  I agree that this is a fantastic YA novel – for the Emilys of the world and for the Claires of the world.  But, more than that, it’s a book for parents.  It’s a book for teachers.  It’s a book for peers.  It’s a tool for teaching or it’s a tool for self discovery.  Gold navigates the intricacies of gender theory with skill.  More importantly, she is able to share those intricacies in such a way that the young adult – or the gender theory novice – doesn’t feel even more confused.  At the same time, Gold doesn’t talk down to those well-versed in the works of Kate Bornstein or Judith Butler.  Well played.

If you’re like me – someone who has never really understood the “T” – this might just be a very good place to start.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not – in any way, shape or form – suddenly an expert on the “T” now.  Oh no.  There is still a lot that is a mystery to me, will always be a mystery to me.  But, now I have an “in”; I have a small way of learning about Emily and others like Emily – what they think, what they feel, what they dream.  It’s a starting point.

It’s a broadening of my horizons.  That’s always a good thing.

11 comments on “REVIEW: “Being Emily” by Rachel Gold

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  6. I’m going to check this out, Car. As a psychologist who works with a lot of trans folks, I’m interested in the journey that Christopher/Emily takes; most trans people who feel gender-dysphoric at an early age don’t shift into a sense of gender congruence w/ their physical body. Any thoughts?


    • I’ll be honest, Mary…I’ve sort of gotten *just* past the “boy wants to be girl…huh!” phase of things. So, while I’ve always been an ally, I’ve never really known a lot about it. I still don’t. So, I’m going to leave it to others who might stop by and want to share their thoughts.

      But if you do get a chance to read the book, I’d be interested in what you have to say. I’ve always valued your expertise!


  7. I’m really looking forward to reading this book. It’s been a long time coming, and as for someone who flirts with the “T” side of our alphabet soup, I’m really interested to see how this book is received by our readership. Your review has been heartening.


  8. That is *Exactly* how I felt when I first read this book. Exactly.


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