In recent years we have seen a huge upswing in younger and younger people coming out as transgender, and embracing what that means. So exploring one such story up close is important. More so, exploring the story of identical twin boys- one of which who comes out as transgender, that’s even more of a story to tell. The story of Nicole Maines and her family is an important story, and a defining story, and one that needs to be told and done well. Sadly, “Becoming Nicole” does not do that.
“Becoming Nicole”, from Random House, was written by Amy Ellis Nutt who is a Pulitzer prize-winning scientific reporter for the Washington Post. I am not familiar with her work there, but given her approach to this topic, I have no doubt she is a very talented scientific reporter. However, she stumbles very badly when trying to do justice to a narrative story.
First of all, I need to disclose that my experience was here was with the audio book, via Audible and read by the author, so that does add another element; and an element that does affect the overall rating. I have to say this because, and I mean no disrespect personally, but Ms Nutt should never be allowed to narrate a book again. Her monotone, emotionless, and mumble-mouthed reading of her own work is distracting and a huge mark against the book right out of the gate. Imagine, if you will, Droopy Dog- if Droopy were a middle-aged woman. You pretty much have her voice down. The biggest problem is that she is utterly emotionless throughout the book, treating clinically and never really driving home any of the emotion of this story.
With that out of the way, let’s talk a little about the focus of “Becoming Nicole”- the Maines. Kelly and Wayne Maines were a young couple that found themselves adopting twin boys from her teenage cousin when she found herself lacking options. In short order Wyatt began to show traits very different from his brother Jonas, and a childhood filled with gender dysphoria began.
Wyatt was certain at a very young age that he was a girl, and simply wanted to know when he would turn into a girl. With the strong support of her mother and brother, and a father that would eventually become her biggest supporter; Wyatt would realize her inner self as Nicole and live the life she knew she deserved.
It would not be easy though. Their journey would take them through bullies, hate groups, activism, antiquated ideals, school systems without answers, courtrooms, and even find themselves separated across the state from each other.
Truly, this family went through hell but came out on the other side even stronger than before, and filled with love and determination.
However Nutt does a poor job of stringing together this story on a narrative level, much less an emotional level. She finds herself mired in data, details, and minutia that do not add to the story and makes it very hard for her to build momentum as a story teller. One of the few times she manages to build real emotion is during a portion of the book that focuses on Nicole’s bullying by a young boy at the insistence of his bigoted grandfather. It is an emotional segment that underscores Nicole’s experience in grade school. That, however, gets railroaded by Nutt’s inexplicable delving into the grandfather’s military career without relating it to the story in any way whatsoever.
Where the book really falls down is in the uneven focus given to the subject. Chapters of narrative abut themselves against chapters that focus on the science, research, and medicine around transsexualism as well as chapters that focus on details of history that don’t relate to this particular story at all. It is as though Nutt tried to make this a catch-all book about transsexualism via the Maines’ story.
Had she written two books, one focusing on the facts and science of gender dysphoria and one that focused on the story of the Maines family, I would have probably given both of those books higher ratings. But together they only do a disservice to each other by doing justice to neither the science or the narrative.
Then, towards the end of the book, she begins to inexplicably gloss over topics and barely discuss them at all- giving us zero detail.
On the positives, a few occasions in “Becoming Nicole” do build some very real emotion- such as the bully incidents from above or Wayne’s growing acceptance of his daughter and their sharing a dance at a father/daughter event. And I found myself interested in the family and wanting to know more about Nicole as a person. However, I got to know more about Nicole as a collection of facts and details.
- Very informative
- Adds to the nature vs nurture debate
- At times delivers real emotion.
- Problem focusing
- Too much minutia
- Treats the subject too coldly and clinically