Ana on the Edge
By A.J. Sass
Genre: Contemporary/Children’s Lit
QUILTBAG Main Character: Yes
QUILTBAG Minor Character: Yes
Main Character of Color: Yes
Bechdel Test: Yes
Summary: Ana Jin is a twelve-year-old with dreams of one day representing the USA in figure skating. Ana’s a talented young skater who just placed first in nationals. But now Ana’s moving to a new rink in a new city with a new choreographer who wants them* to look and act like a princess. Only Ana isn’t sure that being a princess is the right fit, maybe being seen as a girl at all isn’t the right fit. When Ana meets Hayden, a trans boy, only to confuse Ana with a boy, a new world is opening up. But will they be able to accept this new change when everything else seems to be skating on thinning ice?
Let’s Get A Little Deep:
You ever read a hot take and scrunch your nose up like, “No”? I was reading recently that there is no need for any more “coming out” stories, that those stories have already been told and that we are past the point of needing them in our literature. While I certainly love seeing queer characters saving people and hunting things, the idea that there is no more room, no more need, for coming out stories rang hollow with me.
Ana on the Edge is a coming out story. It’s not just about coming out to people who love you, it’s about coming out to yourselves. How many books talk about people “just knowing” their gender or sexuality? How many times have we watched the tearful teenager say “I’ve always known!”?
Not to get overly personal here, but I didn’t come out to myself as queer until I was an adult. I didn’t come out to my family for a long while after that. Since coming out the first time, I have changed what labels I’ve used, redefined my own sexuality, and, in my thirties, will probably do so again. Not everyone “knows” the right word for themselves right away. Coming out is an evolution, just as all parts of growth is an evolution,
Ana’s story is compelling, because it approaches gender as something that one can, and should, figure out for oneself. Ana knows they don’t necessarily identify as a girl or as a boy. While they know that either label doesn’t feel “right,” Ana does allow themself to try out being called a boy, to see how that fits after decades of being referred to as a girl. This exploration of gender identity is rare, particularly in kid’s lit. The idea of trying on an identity only to shed it when you find it doesn’t suit you is such a powerful reminder for children that you don’t have to have it all figured out right away and that exploring is an alright thing to do. Coming out is part of knowing and building a self, so instead of being fixed, it is dynamic.
As Ana explores what the right identity is for them, they also learn that other people are complex and have things happening in their lives that Ana misses because of getting so caught up in their own mental crisis. This not only creates conflict in the story, but also serves as a reminder to young queer kids to never forget that others are struggling as well, even if those struggles look different from ours. It is a message that rings true in no small part because it is only when Ana opens up to the struggle of their friends and family that they are able to fully trust others with their own truth.
Overall, the message of Ana on the Edge is one of understanding oneself, even when that understanding is a slow, years-long process. It urges the readers to explore their own identities while helping cis readers see those outside the gender binary and transgender people as complex human beings. It is a book that feels fresh and new, despite those who might argue that coming out stories are old hat. I’m glad it exists and encourage you to go pick up a copy today.
*A note on pronouns: I’ve used they for Ana in this review for ease of writing. Ana does not, by the end of the book, have any pronouns that they have decided are the right ones for them. It is important to remember that not all non-binary folks use they/them and to never assume anyone’s gender to gender expression.
Thanks for going a little deep with me! I post reviews every other Thursday. Did you love Ana on the Edge? Leave a comment telling me your favorite winter olympic event. You can also find me on Twitter @gwasserst! Special thanks to Yasi (@yasaminnb) for editing my posts.