The jellyfish commonly known as a Portuguese man o’ war is neither Portuguese, nor a jellyfish, nor a man, nor even a singular organism. If you can cope with those facts, you can begin to understand River McIntyre, an elite high school swimmer who’s bad at counting laps. River McIntyre has lived all their life in the shadow of Sea Planet, a now infamous ocean theme park slowly going out of business in the middle of Ohio. As Sea Planet drifts toward its final end, so does River’s high school career and, worse, their time as a competitive swimmer. Or maybe not. When River makes an impulsive dive into Ocean Planet’s shark tank, they unintentionally set off on a wrenching journey of self-discovery, from internalized homophobia and self-loathing through layers of coming out, gender confirmation surgery, and true love. And at the end of this race? Who knows. After all, counting laps has never been River’s strong suit.
I legitimately cried over the deal announcement for this book. I was a competitive swimmer for ten years, I’m trans, I’ve dealt with certain kinds of dysphoria, it was a process to grow into my identity, I’ve gotten top surgery. I’ve desperately wanted to read this book since I found out about it, since it seemed like it touch basically hit my right in the chest. Trigger warnings: internalized homophobia, transphobia, self-harm, deadnaming
This book touched upon a part of myself that is weird, deep inside. It’s just, the little pieces that I saw and connected with, it’s hard to describe what it feels like to what you weren’t expecting to see. I am very different from River, and yet we are so, so similar. It’s sort of like this book took some parts of me that have felt uncomfortable, and reflected them back at me to show that’s not true. It’s hard to describe a book that feels like there’s a tiny piece of you in it.
The growth that River goes through, the way they grow into themselves, become themselves, find themselves, is incredible. It’s like they actually become a person when they were just a shell before. As they become more comfortable with their identity, they’re able to feel more at home with the world, like they don’t have to fight everything that comes across their path. It was so, so wonderful to see. To see the change, sometimes slow, was just amazing.
Honestly, the whole book is about growing into your identity. About how sometimes it is painful and hard, but there is also so much joy in it, and how amazing the people who understand it are. There is such a rawness to everything. It feels so true and open and just allows the whole book to shine.
The writing was absolutely enthralling, pure talent. It was so good.
A lot of the ways this book touched me are extremely personal, but I did really really love the book. It is such a wonderful, sometimes painful, brilliant coming of age story about a trans person growing into their skin. It’s amazing.