Nothing Ever Happens Here by Sarah Hagger-Holt

The Blurb On The Back:

”I wonder what people would think if they could take the front off our house, like a doll’s house, and watch us.  All in the same house, but everyone separate.  No one talking, but everyone thinking the same thing. Will we ever be a normal family again?”

Izzy’s family is under the spotlight when her dad comes out as Danielle, a trans woman.  Now shy Izzy must face her fears, find her voice, confront the bullies and stand up for her family.

Warm, honest and hopeful, this is a story about the power of family, friendship and being true to yourself.

You can buy NOTHING EVER HAPPENS HERE by Sarah Hagger-Holt from Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

12-year-old Isabel “Izzy” Palmer lives in the small town of Littlehaven in East Anglia with her mum (a website designer), her dad (an architect who does loft conversions and extensions), her 16-year-old older sister Megan and 5 year old younger brother Jamie.  Littlehaven is a boring town where nothing much ever seems to happen.  The only excitement comes from her best friend Grace Okafor, an out-going girl who talks 19 to the dozen, mostly about her crush on Sam Kenner.

As Izzy starts Year 8, her favourite teacher, Mr Thomas, announces that the Drama Club will be doing a production of the musical GUYS AND DOLLS before Christmas.  Although normally, shy around people, Izzy quite enjoys acting and is thrilled when she and Grace get the lead roles.  But her dad has news of his own: he is going to transition to be a woman and wants to be called Danielle.  The revelation leaves Izzy confused and upset.  She loves her dad but will he still be her dad or does she have to call him mum?  And what happens when people in her school find out?  Will they be supportive or will they think that she and her family are weird? And will her family ever be the same again?

Sarah Hagger-Holt’s contemporary novel for children aged 9+ is a sensitive look at what it’s like to have a parent who realises that they need to transition.  Although it’s very much an ‘issue’ book, at times I think it soft soaps some of the prejudice that trans people face by merging it in with generic teasing and bullying.  However, saying that, it is a book with a lot of heart and a strong theme of friendship that children will enjoy.

Izzy is an easy main character to relate to, especially her confusion and her fears when her father tells her that he is trans.  Both her and her sister Megan’s anger are very believable and the scenes where the children worry about what to call their dad now that she’s transitioning is particularly well done, as is a scene where Izzy frets about her dad coming to see her show dressed as a woman.

Also well done is Izzy’s friendship with the extrovert Grace and the loyalty and love that they have for each other with Hagger-Holt doing a good job of showing how they have each other’s backs.  It’s because she does such a good job of showing their close friendship that I didn’t quite buy into the break that comes part way through – especially because it’s over a boy.  Given that one of the topics tackled in the book is the prejudice of the pastor of Grace’s church, I half-wished that Hagger-Holt had brought that in more than she did because at least it would have been a meaningful argument rather than an off-hand cruel comment.

It’s a difficult balancing act to tackle the issues faced by trans people and while I think that Hagger-Holt does well with the emotional issues (especially in the scenes where Dee explains why she is transitioning and how difficult it has been for her), I did think she undersold the prejudice that trans people face.  This is partly manifested through the fact that religious discrimination is limited to the pastor but while Hagger-Holt hints at a hypocrisy in the pastor’s words and his feelings, she steers away from confronting religious discrimination directly.  Equally, the comments that Izzy gets at school from Liam and Mia is more part of the general mix of teasing, just another stick to beat Izzy with rather than being specifically trans related.  It’s not that I particularly want to read prejudice against trans people in a book (and especially not in a book for children of this age group) but the current political climate is sadly such that I think it does need to be directly addressed given some of the rubbish playing out in the tabloid press and on-line.

This is essentially an ‘issue’ book and as such, the plot hits the main points that you’d expect.  I enjoyed the GUYS AND DOLLS musical and rehearsals that play out in the background because they help to develop Izzy’s character arc and shows how her confidence is growing. I also enjoyed the revelation about Sam and the conversations that he and Izzy have – indeed, I would have enjoyed more of these given that trans men seldom seem to get the abuse and fear that trans women do.

All this said, if you’re looking for a book on trans issues for this age group then I definitely think that this is a good one to read because it is sensitive and aware of the emotional issues and certainly forms a good basis for talking about the topic with your children.  On that basis, I think this book is well worth a look.  

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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