This book is everything. The cover quote from Kacen Callender calls the novel “a simultaneous warm hug and a lightning strike of courage” and I couldn’t agree more. I was so invested in the lives of the main characters, Spencer and Justice, that I read the entire book in one sitting. To be transparent, I love a good romance; whether the romance is the main plotline or a subtle background story, I am hooked. And there is so much love in this book. There is love between friends, parents, siblings, support systems, coaches and, of course, romantic love.
The synopsis of the book highlights the conflict Spencer confronts playing as a transgender athlete on the boys’ team. For his own safety, Spencer transfers to a new school where he believes it is safe to be queer but is hesitant to be out as trans. This repeated message is an important reality that safety comes first, with no one pressuring Spencer to risk that by coming out as transgender. This emphasizes the fact that maintaining your own safety does not mean you are living a lie.
Although these events do take place in the story, it is not what makes up the bulk of the narrative.
The Passing Playbook takes the reader to a new school with Spencer where he experiences acceptance by his peers, teachers and coach; support in a GSA and success playing soccer. It also parallels this experience with that of Justice, Spencer’s crush and teammate, who has the same acceptance at school, but is not open at home. Their relationship is the sweet and romantic love that was a delight to read.
Alongside the budding romance, this book deals with trans rights at school and in sports. It gives a positive example of what an accepting team can look like without a grand coming out, but also what the support of a team looks like when faced with adversity. Spencer fits in easily as a queer player and that comradery never waivers as the eventual conflict of playing as a trans athlete is realized.
Another important storyline is the juxtaposition of parenting between the families of Spencer and Justice. On one side the reader sees parents who are desperate to do the right thing, attend support groups and bond with their child. On the other side are parents who are homophobic leaving a child who is scared. Spencer’s story has a happy ending. While the book ends with Justice being safe and loved, I can’t say his ending is a happy one. Fitzsimons does an excellent job highlighting the positives and showing strong Allyship without ignoring the hard realities being faced in the LBGTQ2AS+ community.
Although left with a heart-warming feeling, this book does not shy away from hard topics. Readers will see characters faced with homophobia, transphobia, religious bigotry, misgendering and references to school violence. This is Isaac Fitzsimons’ first novel. He captures the characters so realistically with a pace that feels natural and I can’t wait to read more from this author.
“I think that the more people who are out and visible, the safer it is for everyone. BUT, and this is a big but, you need to make sure that you’re safe first. Physically safe, yes but also emotionally and psychologically.”
“Whether you come out tomorrow or in five years, or thirty years, I guarantee that the fight will still be going on in some form or another. And I promise that when you join us, we’ll welcome you with open arms.”