She Persisted: Rachel Levine
by Lisa Bunker
(with Chelsea Clinton & Alexandra Bioger),
published by Philomel Books, 2023.
Rachel Levine became the United States assistant secretary for health in 2021, the first openly trans person to be confirmed by the senate for this job. In this role, she makes the country “a safer and healthier place.” She also became a four-star admiral, the first openly trans person in any of the eight US uniformed services to achieve this rank. Author Lisa Bunker, who is herself trans, does a good job of showcasing Rachel Levine’s accomplishments as a health professional, while also telling her story from early childhood, and exploring where and how Rachel’s trans identity, and people’s reaction to it, impacted her life.
In chapter one, we learn that the first time Rachel knew for sure that she was a trans girl was when she was five years old. In the book, we read:
She was reading a story in a comic book about a superhero named Superboy. In this particular story, an alien woman from another planet used a magic ring to turn Superboy into a girl. When Rachel read that, she knew that was what she wanted and needed too.
There were two problems though. The first problem was it didn’t seem possible. The magic ring wasn’t real. The second problem was, she didn’t know how to say what she wanted, to another person or even to herself. In those days, hardly anyone knew anything about transgender people. Most of the words for talking about trans people hadn’t been invented yet.
Rachel had a happy childhood, even though “Rachel took the knowledge that she was a girl and hid it away in a secret place in her brain. Then did her best to act like a boy.” Rachel’s family loved her, and her parents took good care of her. When she was quite young, she discovered a love for science. One of her early dreams was to be a geneticist, someone who studies how traits are passed from parent to child. When she got older, the dream changed to wanting to become a doctor. Students in school called Rachel, “The Torpedo.” They called her this because she just kept going and going, no matter what.
This biography follows Rachel through her growing up years, then Harvard college, medical school, residency, marriage, parenthood with two children, and becoming a hospital researcher and administrator, where she specialized in treating teenagers, which is called adolescent medicine. Eventually, Rachel made room in her busy life to spend time taking care of herself. She found a therapist and educated herself about being transgender, and she began living as her true self, a proud and strong transgender woman. Rachel’s career continued to flourish, and she became Secretary of Health for Pennsylvania, after the governor heard of her work with the LGBTQ advocacy group, Equality Pennsylvania.
Throughout her life, Rachel Levine has persisted in working hard and offering important representation that “trans is normal and healthy” while also helping people with medical problems, drug addiction, and public health and safety. Lisa Bunker highlights Rachel Levine’s numerous firsts in representation for women and trans people, “showing the world that trans women can be leaders and champions.”
This book is the latest installment in Chelsea Clinton’s She Persisted chapter book series for young readers. Each book in the series highlights the life of an inspirational woman who spoke up and rose to the top of her profession against all odds. Chelsea Clinton writes an introduction at the beginning of each book in the series that includes these words:
I wrote the first She Persisted and the books that came after because I wanted young girls – and children of all genders – to see women who worked hard to live their dreams. And I wanted all of us to see examples of persistence in the face of different challenges to help inspire us in our own lives. I hope you enjoy these chapter books as much as I do and find them inspiring and empowering. And remember: If anyone ever tells you no, if anyone ever says your voice isn’t important or your dreams are too big, remember these women. They persisted and so should you.
Lisa Bunker (she/vo/they) identifies as a trans-feminine non-binary author who writes books for children and tweens featuring LGBTQ+ main characters who are regular kids with strengths and flaws, just like everyone else. From 2018 to 2022 she represented the town of Exeter in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, as one of the first out trans state legislators in US history. You can visit Lisa Bunker online at LisaBunker.net.
This book review was submitted by Stand with Trans
advocate Barb Shumer, who is a past board member and
retired public librarian.
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