Elizabeth Copeland’s Jazz takes us on a touching journey as a young trans man reclaims his body and identity. Aimed at a young audience, this book is sure to help closed-minded youth gain a new perspective, and to help trans youth and other members of the LGBT community realize that they are not alone.
Named Jaswinder at birth, Copeland’s protagonist prefers the name “Jazz.” He says, “At birth, I was labeled a girl. I was named Jaswinder. My chosen name is Jazz. Like the music, I am nature’s improvisation.” The reader follows Jazz through his childhood in a middle-class Indian Canadian home with a father and brother who hate his non-conforming behavior, and a mother who doesn’t understand his burgeoning gender identity. When they try to suppress Jazz’s gender expression, he retreats, becoming depressed, withdrawn, and eating less. On his 17th birthday, Jazz comes out to his family as transgender, hoping to be welcomed as a man. Instead, Jazz’s family rejects him, and his father tells him that he is no longer welcome in his home. Jazz is forced to leave, becoming homeless. The rest of the novel covers his journey as he finds an LGBT community to help him survive the streets, and struggles to be accepted.
The book is mainly told from Jazz’s point of view but also features the internal thoughts from supporting characters on Jazz’s transition. We get to hear why the people closest to Jazz, his family, would abandon him, and how they wrestle with the news. The reader also gets to hear from Jazz’s newfound supporters allowing us to hear both sides of the “conversation.”
Though the issue is complex and also grapples with very adult content the book is definitely aimed at younger readers. As a protagonist, Jazz can be immature at times, rejecting help when it is offered to him by social workers Kendall, an older FTM transgender individual who has gone through the same journey as Jazz, and Sister Mary Francis, an ex-nun. As in many young adult novels, some aspects of the plot ravel together too neatly for real life: for example, Jazz very quickly finds a job and a place to stay and a job after becoming homeless. While there is some emotional and personal growth for Jazz, none of it goes past the realistic maturity level of a 17-year-old, which might prove frustrating for some adults, but well suited to younger readers. However, though geared towards a younger crowd, the book is a good read for any age. The language of the book is almost musical or poetic, and the writing is very poignant at times, with apt descriptions. Jazz is a charming, sometimes-sweet tale of one character’s “It Gets Better” story.