If I Can Give You That

written by Michael Gray Bulla,
Published by Quill Tree Books, 2023

Seventeen-year-old Gael (he/him) is used to avoiding people and keeping to himself.  Between supporting his mother through her bouts of severe depression, dealing with his estranged father, and navigating senior year as a transgender boy at a conservative Tennessean high school, his life would be a lot to unload on fellow classmates.  Thank goodness Gael has a best friend in Nicole, who he has known since early childhood when they lived in the same apartment complex in a different community, and before his parents got divorced.  Nicole became like a big sister when Gael was in seventh grade,  just a few months after she started transitioning, and as Gael was recognizing that he was transgender too.  Nicole has been a constant friend since that time, helping Gael get his first job at Joey’s, the pizza place where she works, and convincing him to attend meetings of Plus, a support group for LGBTQIA+ teens that she helps facilitate.  

Gael writes of his friend Nicole:

I love that Nicole loves being trans.  I think a lot of cis people have this idea that trans people are supposed to hate being trans, that we have to wish we were cisgender, that our transness brings us nothing but pain, but Nicole refutes that in every way she can.   Even when things are rough, she still takes pride in who she is.  I wish I could, too.  Not that I hate being trans, but I haven’t gotten there yet in terms of acceptance or self-love or whatever you would call it.  I know it wasn’t easy for her to get to this place, but seeing her find so much joy in who she is, it makes me hope I can find that too.

Through attending Plus support group meetings, Gael becomes acquainted with Declan, a fellow senior at his high school, who becomes a new caring and supportive friend.  Declan brings Gael into his circle of queer friends who readily accept Gael in ways that other kids never have.  As Gael’s friendships develop, and his relationship with Declan grows into something more than just friends, Gael finds himself riddled with anxiety as he tries to manage new friendships, his mother’s worsening mental health, his father’s attempts to reconnect, and his own confusing thoughts about love, life, and what comes next, after senior year.  When tragedy strikes, Gael must decide if he can risk letting the walls around his heart down and fully opening up to his new friends who care so much about him and want to help.  

This coming-of-age story is special as it demonstrates how growing up is never an easy linear process.  As a high school senior, Gael knows he’s trans, and is already transitioning, but he still has so many questions and anxieties.  He is not sure of his sexuality, if he is attracted to girls or boy or if he is asexual.  Will his mother be okay if he goes off to college?  Should he let his dad back into his life, even though he has been a big jerk to both Gael and his mom?  

Michael Gray Bulla (he/him) is a young adult novelist and poet from Franklin, Tennessee.  He is a graduate of Wells college, where he majored in Creative Writing.  If I Can Give You That is his debut young adult novel.  He writes, “I wrote the very first draft of this book when I was sixteen, and in the seven years since, it’s been through more revisions than I could count – all for the better.” 

In the dedication section at the back of the book he writes, “To all the trans people who came before me, and to all the trans people who brought me into their community when I was first discovering myself.  The fight for our rights continues, but I believe in us.  I believe in our worth.  I believe in our strength.  I love you all.”   He currently resides in Ithaca, New York with his partner and their two cats, Hermes and Hera.  You can visit him online at michaelgraybulla.com or on Twitter or Instagram@graybulla.

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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