The latest installment of “Checking Him Out” works great as stand alone tackles crucial topics of our time
I was looking forward to reading this story ever since Leigh came into the picture (book 2 or 3, I don’t recall). Their condition, most easily described as a form of intersex, made me curious to learn more about their (Leigh’s chosen pronoun) background. As for Leigh’s love interest, Jesse, he has also appeared earlier and was always described in a very positive light, although he was always on the fringes of the previous tales. The Making of Us is the story of these two, their relationship, as it was alluded to at the end of book 3, told from Jesse’s point of view.
I’ve reviewed many of Debbie’s books before, and I think I’ve loved all of them with the exception of one. There, it was my lack of understanding of English titles and nomenclature which left me confused. Here, this could’ve been an issue, as Leigh’s medical condition and some of the side effects of their biology could’ve been confusing. But it’s described very well and I’ve had no issues to follow it, even though I’m hardly an expert on the intricacies of intersex biology. Having read so many of Debbie’s novels, I often wonder what it is that makes her writing so appealing, so easy to read. Because her books are often low-key, they don’t throw the reader unexpected curve balls or include drama for the sake of drama. No, Debbie’s storytelling reminds me a bit of what it’s like to live an “ordinary life”, highly plausible, credible and totally believable. I hate to make comparisons, to TV shows, and I won’t, but since two of her main works have evolved (or are about to) into never-ending soap operas (in the best sense of the word!), reading these books is like being transported to England in general and Norwich and surrounding area specifically, to follow the lives of the people Debbie so lovingly describes. By now, after four books, I feel like I’m part of that greater family, they feel like friends or at least acquaintances.
That, and Debbie’s unique ability at describing her locales and locations make for great reading, and as a fellow author, I often envy her uncanny ability to draw pictures of a pub, or a house, or a beach, with just a few words. One more word about the aspect that this is book four in a series. I’m no fan of series, and I’ve shied away from Debbie’s other “universe”, that of “Hiding Behind the Couch” simply because it’s too daunting a task to tackle the x million words it’s grown into. I’ve read a couple of stand-alone novels from it, but I’ve sometimes felt that I’m missing a bit too much of the background, stretching over several years. If you’re like me, you need not worry about this particular book. In fact, The Making of Us works perfectly as a stand alone. Yes, there are mentions of other characters, and particularly the main protagonists from book 3 are mentioned frequently, but even if there had been no previous books, you could still read this without missing much.
So what’s The Making of Us about, apart from teaching us about intersexuality and gender fluidity/queerness? On the surface, you might be lured into thinking this to be a romance, but you’d be disappointed. There isn’t as much as a breeze disrupting Jesse’s and Leigh’s relationship. Instead, it is mainly the characters’ internal struggle which is highlighted. For Jesse, it’s his weight and his life-long struggle to maintain, lose weight, as well as his severely challenged body image (self-esteem), as well as an interesting take on the inner workings of the LGBT community/communities, and how we work with our allies from the straight world. I won’t go into details in order not to spoil anything. There are very educational aspects to the novel, and yeah, it’s no surprise given that Debbie is both a teacher and a social scientist. She knows her stuff well. But they’re not the aspects of the story I will remember the most, and as befits great writing, Debbie allows both (or more) sides of the argument to be heard, and she doesn’t always resolve the inherent conflicts. Sometimes they endure, as they so often do in real life. Not all conflicts can be resolved, and the LGBT community is hardly a perfectly harmonious body.
My favorite aspects of The Making of Us are the instances where Leigh and Jesse get to know each other, intimate moments between the two (which btw doesn’t translate into ceaseless bunny-like fucking! If that’s your fare, look elsewhere), where insecurities come to light, be it their youth or inexperience, be it their struggle with their bodies etc. And more often than not, I found myself reminded of my own life, I recognized thoughts, wishes, and dreams I had when I was their age. That was very endearing and moving reading. It’s probably the most significant aspect of the story, the fact that I, I label myself a cisgender gay man, fully identifies with the emotions, the love & relationship of a bi-sexual, obese man and an intersex queer person. One of the great “morals” of this book: who gives a flying fuck about what your genitals are, what your gender is, love transcends it all and is the same for all.
Now, after all the accolades, is there nothing “critical” to mention in The Making of Us? Not really. This really is a good read, one I wish were mandatory high school reading, and compulsory for all “conservative” politicians. This book would make great educational material. There were a few instances where the “show” felt a tad “tell”, but given the importance of the subjects, it’s not only understandable but totally justified. If you’re curious about learning more about what we often refer to as “nonbinary”, gender-fluid, or gender queer characters and other social issues within the LGBT community, put this novel on your reading list. I guarantee that you won’t regret it.
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