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Literature / Parrotfish

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One little thing changes, and suddenly everything is different.

Parrotfish by Ellen Wittliger tells the tale of a teenager named Grady Katz-McNair. He's a relatively normal American boy except for one detail — Grady was assigned female at birth and only recently decided to come out as a boy. Grady decides to start living as male despite issues from his family and peers.

Released in 2007, Parrotfish was one of the first Young Adult books to be about transgender issues. As a result, its language is a bit dated. But it still resonates for the most part.

Parrotfish contains examples of:

  • Alpha Bitch: Danya is an unrepentant bully who is disgusted by Grady. She tries to pull a cruel prank on him and even goes as far as to suggest he should kill himself.
  • Ambiguously Brown: Kita Charles is half-black and half-Japanese but it's noted that she has an ambiguous look to her. She's been speculated to be anything from Italian, Filipino, Egyptian, and Israeli.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Inverted with Laura, who finds her older brother Grady to be embarrassing. She does eventually warm up to him eventually.
  • Betty and Veronica: Grady is the 'Betty' to Russ' 'Veronica' when it comes to Kita. Grady is more down-to-earth and sweet, while Russ is well-meaning but ignorant and more athletic. Russ wins out.
  • The Bully:
    • Grady gets bullied by several boys and especially by Danya and her Girl Posse.
    • Sebastian gets teased because he's short and lacks in social awareness.
    • Eve ends up bullied by Danya for betraying her.
  • Coming-Out Story: The book is about a teenage trans boy who just came out. Previously Grady had came out as a lesbian, but he later figured out that it didn't apply to him.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: In the end Kita ultimately gets back with her boyfriend, leaving Grady single.
  • Enthusiastic Newbie Teacher: Ms. Marino is a first year Spanish teacher. Grady notes that she's anxious to have her students' approval, so she takes to his transgender-related name change with more ease than most of his other teachers.
  • Everyone Is Christian at Christmas: Averted with Grady's mother. She is Jewish and hates her husband's obsession with Christmas, but she puts up with it anyway.
  • Geek Physique:
    • Grady's brother Charlie is a fat kid who likes to play video games.
    • Sebastian is short and skinny nerd.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Grady choses his name specifically because it's a gender-neutral name.
  • Heroes Love Dogs: Grady adopts a dog behind his parent's back at the end of the book.
  • Hidden Buxom: Grady binds with the ace-bandage method.
  • Homeschooled Kids: Grady and Eve were raised in the same homeschool class but they decided to go to a public high school. Grady's younger brother is still in home school. Eve wants to be popular and have friends precisely because she only had one friend growing up.
  • Girl Posse: Danya has one which includes Grady's former best friend Eve. Never having been to public school, Eve is so desperate to fit in and have friends that she deserts Grady and hangs around a bully like Danya instead.
  • Imagine Spot: Grady frequently has imagine spots that are written in script-format and in a different text than the rest of the book.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Sebastian asks Grady out to the dance under the guise that he's a girl. He gets turned down when Grady mentions that he's a boy, and a straight boy at that.
  • Malicious Slander: When she gets on her bad side, Dayna begins spreading rumors that Eve is gay and she is Grady's ex-girlfriend.
  • Mixed Ancestry is Attractive: Kita is half-black and half-Japanese, and the narrator considers her the perfect example of an ethnically ambiguous, mixed-race beauty.
    Grady: In Kita the combination of racial backgrounds had produced a stunner: Her skin like polished oak, and she wore her black hair in long dreads. [...] You couldn't take her apart and say, Ah yes, that part is Japanese; that part is African. She was a perfectly mixed combination — her own unique person.
  • Messy Hair: Some bullies call Grady "Angela Cat-Hair" and "Hairball" because of his sloppy self-haircut.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted. Grady gets his period and it makes a bad day even worse. He goes home early just to avoid more embarrassment.
  • Parental Bonus: It features more profanity than is common for books aimed at middle schoolers.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Tiny Schoolboy: Grady's friend Sebastian is only 5'0 despite being a high schooler. It's a source of bullying from others.
  • Trans Equals Gay: Many characters in-series make this mistake and wonder why Grady doesn't just "stay a lesbian".
  • Trans Tribulations: Grady has to deal with his family disapproving of his transition, his best friend rejecting him for coming out, and the ostracism of his school peers.
  • Wanted a Gender-Conforming Child: Grady notes that his mother and sister are the ones that are upset about his transition, not his dad or brother. He wonders if they're mad at him for "deserting" his sex.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Grady's sister Laura has never even heard of the name "Grady" before.