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4.5 12
by Ellen Wittlinger

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Last week I cut my hair, bought some boys' clothes and shoes, wrapped a large ACE bandage around my chest to flatten my fortunately-not-large breasts, and began looking for a new name.

Angela Katz-McNair has never felt quite right as a girl. Her whole life is leading up to the day she decides to become Grady, a guy. While coming out as transgendered feels right


Last week I cut my hair, bought some boys' clothes and shoes, wrapped a large ACE bandage around my chest to flatten my fortunately-not-large breasts, and began looking for a new name.

Angela Katz-McNair has never felt quite right as a girl. Her whole life is leading up to the day she decides to become Grady, a guy. While coming out as transgendered feels right to Grady, he isn't prepared for the reaction he gets from everyone else. His mother is upset, his younger sister is mortified, and his best friend, Eve, won't acknowledge him in public. Why can't people just let Grady be himself?

Grady's life is miserable until he finds friends in some unexpected places — like the school geek, Sebastian, who explains that there is precedent in the natural world (parrotfish change gender when they need to, and the newly male fish are the alpha males), and Kita, a senior who might just be Grady's first love.

From acclaimed writer Ellen Wittlinger, this is the groundbreaking story of one teen's search for self and his struggle for acceptance.

Editorial Reviews

KLIATT - Claire Rosser
In the genre of "problem fiction," this novel would be tagged as about a transgender adolescent. Wittlinger is a good storyteller and this is far from being solely an issue novel. Angela is the narrator and her story begins with the birth of a new cousin: is it a boy or a girl? Seemingly easily answered, but not for people like Angela, who has been raised as a girl but feels that she is at heart a boy. Angela insists that her family start calling her Grady. She is attracted to girls. At first, she thought she was a lesbian, but has realized that it's more complicated than that—she feels she is a boy attracted to girls, a heterosexual with the wrong body parts for who she really is. The novel progresses as Grady finds friends in school, including a science enthusiast, Sebastian, who is studying parrotfish, a species that changes gender from female to male: hence the title of this book. Wittlinger's writing skill will help YA readers understand transgender issues, and those readers will be entertained and moved as they read.
VOYA - Jamie S. Hansen
People redefine themselves all the time. They change their names, their jobs, their majors, their hair color, their political parties, their religions, and even their husbands or wives. Why, then, is it such a big deal to change one's gender? Although outwardly female, Angela has always felt like a boy inside. After years of girly pretense, in his/her junior year of high school, he/she crops hair, dons male attire, and announces to family, friends, and teachers that he/she wishes to be called Grady. Parents and siblings react with disbelief and distress. Grady's former best friend, a hanger-on in the clique of popular girls, is disgusted. Most of his/her teachers dismiss transgendering as clear evidence that teenagers do not really know what they want. Bullied, teased, and mocked at school, Grady discovers that he/she has two unexpected allies. Kira, the most gorgeous and popular senior at Buxton High, offers sympathy and understanding. Weird and geeky Sebastian, writing a report on gender changing in parrotfish, proves a surprisingly strong and supportive friend. With a little help from his/her two new friends, some education about the natural world, and his/her own strong convictions, Grady is confirmed in the rightness of his/her actions. Peopled with wonderfully wacky characters and scenes, this narrative snaps and crackles with wit, even while it touches the spirit of the sensitive reader. Wittlinger scores another success with this highly recommended novel.
Children's Literature - Keri Collins
Angela Katz-McNair has always felt more like a boy than a girl. She tried being a tomboy and then a lesbian on her way to figuring out her gender identity. Upon realizing she is transgendered, which she describes as having the soul of a typical boy in the body of a girl, Angela cuts her hair short, wraps her breasts in an Ace® bandage to flatten them, wears boys clothes, and changes her name to Grady, making this transformation over the Thanksgiving holiday. Against the backdrop of the family's annual epic Christmas decorating extravaganza, Grady faces the stereotypical reactions of his peers, teachers, friends, and relatives as they attempt to deal with his new identity. Friends abandon him, his sister believes her life is ruined, he is harassed and subjected to humiliation, and the school principal offers no support. New friendships are formed, support is found in unexpected places, and Grady falls in love. While Ellen Wittlinger's skillful writing tackles a difficult and controversial topic with sensitivity balanced with humor, the protagonist's inner dialogue and casual conversations often sound like an adult trying to educate the reader on the appropriate terminology to use and attitudes to have toward people who are transgendered. In the end, this story reads like many other tales of self-discovery but with an uneven pace, an overly large cast of characters, and little true growth in the protagonist as he faces minimal conflict with tremendous support. References, resources, and web sites are supplied at the end of the book.
School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up
As in Hard Love (S & S, 1999), Wittlinger tackles GLBT issues, introducing readers to Grady McNair, formerly known as Angela. This fast read follows Grady through the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas as he comes out as transgendered, faces issues of acceptance and rejection at school and at home, and falls in love with the hottest girl in school. Funny and thought-provoking in turns, the book does suffer from a few structural problems. The narrator's voice is very feminine for somebody who has internally always felt like a boy, and with little effort on his part, Grady ends the book with family approval, new and old friends, a previously forbidden pet, and the end of an embarrassing family holiday tradition. Flaws aside, the book is an excellent resource for building awareness about, and serving the increasing number of, transgendered teens. Helpful resources include Web sites and further-reading material. The lack of similar titles available, except for Julie Ann Peters's Luna (Little, Brown, 2004), and Wittlinger's captivating storytelling ability combine to make this a book that most libraries should stock. Grady eventually decides that he will always straddle the 50 yard line of gender, and the book should help teens be comfortable with their own place on that football field.
—Cara von Wrangel KinseyCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
A transgender boy comes out to family, friends, schoolmates and teachers in this groundbreaking book. "[I]nside the body of this strange, never-quite-right girl was hiding the soul of a typical, average, ordinary boy," says Grady; "In my dreams at night, I was a boy, but every morning I woke to the big mistake again." At school, some faculty resist, but the gym teacher offers her own office and shower as a private changing area. A bully arranges a devastating prank (stealing Grady's clothes and leaving him an ultra-feminine outfit), but someone spills the beans and humiliation is avoided. Wittlinger balances well the negative and positive reactions to Grady's change, including confusion and prejudice but also acceptance; a sexy girl is attracted to Grady (but doesn't finally date him). At home, the family's long-term, gaudy Christmas traditions (seven Santas on the lawn and an indoor Christmas Carol reenactment visible to neighbors) come to an end as a symbol of change. Artistically bland, but direct and respectful. Given the rarity of transgender characters, a vital and necessary purchase for any YA collection. (references, resources, websites) (Fiction. YA)
From the Publisher
“A thought-provoking discussion of gender roles, gender identity, and the influence of nature, nurture, and social construction on both.”—The Horn Book Magazine

“A compelling and richly detailed story.”—The BCCB

“Peopled with wonderfully wacky characters and scenes, this narrative snaps and crackles with wit, even while it touches the spirit of the sensitive reader. Wittlinger scores another success with this highly recommended novel.”—VOYA

“Wittlinger’s writing skill will help YA readers understand transgender issues, and those readers will be entertained and moved as they read.”—KLIATT

“The author demonstrates well the complexity faced by transgendered people and makes the teen’s frustration with having to “fit into a category” fully apparent.”—Publishers Weekly

Product Details

Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.20(d)
790L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt




    I could hear Mom on the phone in the kitchen gleefully shrieking to her younger sister, my aunt Gail. I was in the garage, as always on the day after Thanksgiving, dragging out carton after carton of Christmas crap, helping Dad turn our house into a local tourist attraction and us, once again, into the laughingstock of Buxton, Massachusetts.

    Dad handed me down another box from the highest shelf. “Sounds like Gail had the baby,” he said. “You guys finally got a cousin.”

    “A little late for me to enjoy,” I said.

    “I’m sure she’ll let you babysit sometime,” Dad said, grinning. He knows how I feel about that job. But then his eyes met mine and his smile faded a little, as if he’d just remembered something important. No doubt he had.

    I was separating forty strands of lights into two piles—white and multicolored—when Mom came flying through the screen door, her eyes all watery and glistening. “It’s a boy!” she said. “A healthy baby boy!”

    I dropped the lights I was holding and glared at her. Goddamn it, hadn’t she learned anything from me?

    “Healthy,” Dad said quickly. “That’s the main thing.” Thank you, Dad. At least he was making an effort to understand.

    “Of course it is,” Mom said, trying clumsily to plaster over her mistake. “That’s what I said. A healthy boy.”

    A chill ran down my back, and I turned away from them, imagining in my head the conversation between Mom and Aunt Gail. I do that sometimes to keep my mind off reality.


           GAIL: Oh Judy, I’m finally holding my own baby in my arms!

           MOM: So, tell me the important stuff! Is it a boy or a girl?

           GAIL: A boy! A beautiful boy!

           MOM: That’s wonderful, Gail! A real boy!

           GAIL: Do you have any advice for me, Judy? Since you always do everything perfectly, and I just struggle through life without a plan?

           MOM: Glad you asked. You need to get yourself two more kids and a husband—so you’ll be just like me! Of course, if you couldn’t find a man before, having a squalling infant with a loaded diaper connected to your hip isn’t going to help much.

           GAIL: Oh, Judy, you know how much I hate you when you’re right.

           MOM: Well, don’t worry—I’m hardly ever right in my own house anymore.


    Okay, my mother isn’t really that obnoxious to her sister. But when I imagine my little scenes in my head, I make people speak as if they weren’t afraid of what other people thought. What they would say if they were suddenly turned inside out and everybody knew all their secrets anyway, so lying was beside the point.

    But I knew the first question Mom asked Gail was, Is it a boy or a girl? Because, for some reason, that is the first thing everybody wants to know the minute you’re born. Should we label it with pink or blue? Wouldn’t want anyone to mistake the gender of an infant! Why is that so important? It’s a baby! And why does it have to be a simple answer? One or the other? Not all of us fit so neatly into the category we get saddled with on Day One when the doctor glances down and makes a quick assessment of the available equipment. What’s the big rush, anyway?

    “She’s naming him Michael. Michael Eli Katz. I’m so happy for her.” Mom brushed away a stray tear, and I wondered who it was for.

    Everybody would have been happy for Aunt Gail whether her baby was a boy or a girl. I knew that. As long as it’s healthy—that’s what they always say about babies. Why don’t they say that when you’re older? I was perfectly healthy, but nobody was applauding it anymore.

    Dad got off the ladder and gave Mom a hug. “And now you’re going to tell me you’re off to the hospital this minute, aren’t you?”

    She smiled. “Sorry, Joe. I’m so anxious to see the baby. But I promise to help you set up the yard the rest of the weekend.”

    “Go on,” he said. “The kids will help me.”

    “Actually, Laura wants to come with me,” Mom said a little sheepishly, just as my younger sister slammed through the door, lips eggplant purple to match her thick eye shadow. Mom calls Laura’s adventures with makeup “experimentation.” I call them brainwashing by Maybelline.

    “I’ve never been to a maternity ward before,” Laura said, twitching her shoulders with excitement. “I want to see all the babies lined up in those little beds.”

    “Howling like Siamese cats,” I said wistfully. Laura gave me an evil look.

    “Charlie’s staying here, though,” Mom said, as if Charlie were ever any help to anybody.

    “Don’t worry, Dad,” I said. “I’ll help you.”

    “Angie, you should come with us,” Laura said. “This is our first cousin.”

    “If you want to go, Angela, it’s fine,” Dad said. “We’ll just work extra hard tomorrow.”

    “Nah,” I said, “babies aren’t my thing. I’d rather get Rudolph to balance on the roof ridge, and you know how much fun that is. Tell Aunt Gail I said congratulations. I’ll be eager to see the kid once he can talk and tie his own shoes.” Was it wrong to enjoy annoying my sister so much?

    Laura smacked me on the shoulder. “Angie, you suck!” She generally found me exasperating, and I generally didn’t care.

    “Angela doesn’t have to come along if she doesn’t want to,” Mom said, pointedly not looking at me. Disappointing her had become my fulltime job.

    “By the way, I’ve decided on my new name,” I said. “So you can stop calling me Angela.”

    Laura huffed in disgust. “You aren’t really doing that, are you?”

    “I said I was. Didn’t you believe me?”

    “You can’t just change your name overnight!”

    “Sure I can. People do it all the time.”

    “So, what are we supposed to call you now?” Mom asked impatiently, the car keys jingling in her hand.

    “Grady.” I liked the way it sounded when I said it out loud. Yeah, it was good.

    “‘Grady’? What kind of a name is that?” Laura wanted to know. “Is that even a boy’s name?”

    “It’s a name that could belong to either gender,” I said. “Also, I like the gray part of it—you know, not black, not white. Somewhere in the middle.”

    “Grady,” Mom said quietly, her eyes sweeping my newly short haircut.

    “Nice name,” Dad said as he climbed back up the ladder. He’d been amazingly calm about my recent declaration, but he didn’t seem to want to discuss it much.

    “It’s a stupid name,” Laura said. “What if we all decided to go and change our names? What if I decided I’d rather be called Cinderella or something?”

    I shrugged. “Then I’d call you Cinderella.”

    “Or, what if I changed it to Madonna? Or, or . . . Corned Beef Sandwich!”

    Mom gave her a push toward the driveway. “Let’s get going now. We can talk about this later.”

    “Bye now, Corned Beef!” I called. It looked to me as if Mom was having a hard time keeping a little smile off her face. I always could make her laugh.

    I watched them slide into the car and pull away. No doubt they were complaining about me before they were out of the driveway.


           LAURA: God, it was bad enough when Angie thought she was a lesbian. Now she wants us to call her by that dumb name. Why can’t she just act like a girl?

           MOM: [heavy sigh] Your sister never did act like a girl.

           LAURA: And that horrible haircut she gave herself—ugh. It looks like somebody ran over her with a lawn mower. I’m so embarrassed when people find out she’s my sister.

           MOM: I always loved the name Angela. It was my first choice for a girl.

           LAURA: [grumbling] You should have given it to me. It’s better than Laura.

           MOM: Another satisfied customer.

           LAURA: You know, Mira’s cousin is a lesbian, and she still wears makeup and dresses like a regular person. She’s pretty, too!

           MOM: [eyes glued to the road] Angela isn’t a lesbian anymore, or so she says. She could still be pretty, though, if she’d wear decent clothing instead of those secondhand leftovers from the Goodwill.

           LAURA: Are you kidding? Ma, Angie looks like Woody Allen dressed as a hobbit.

           MOM: Oh, Laura, that’s not fair. Angela is taller than Woody Allen.


    I guess I don’t really look like Woody Allen, especially since I got my contacts. But what do I look like? Kind of skinny. Kind of tall. Brown hair, shaved at the neck, floppy in the front. I look like everybody and nobody. Am I invisible? Probably not, because people sometimes stare. But I don’t trust the mirror for this kind of information. Girl? Boy? The mirror can’t even tell me that.

    Why can’t I act like a girl? I used to ask myself that question all the time. When the swimming teacher said, “Boys in this line; girls in the other,” why did I want so badly to stand with those rowdy, pushy boys, even though my nonexistent six-year-old boobettes were already hidden behind shiny pink fabric, making it clear which line I was supposed to stand in? I wondered, even then, why I couldn’t be a boy if I wanted to. I wasn’t unhappy exactly; I was just puzzled. Why did everybody think I was a girl? And after that: Why was it such a big freaking deal what I looked like or acted like? I looked like myself. I acted like myself. But everybody wanted me to fit into a category, so I let them call me a tomboy, though I knew that only girls were tomboys, and I was not a girl. By high school I said I was a lesbian, because it seemed closer to the truth than giving everyone hope that someday I’d turn into a regular hairdo-and-high-heels female. I was just getting us all ready for the truth. I was crawling toward the truth on my hands and knees.

    I came out once, but that was just a rehearsal—now it was time for the real thing. Because I was tired of lying. And the truth was, inside the body of this strange, never-quite-right girl hid the soul of a typical, average, ordinary boy.

  • Meet the Author

    Ellen Wittlinger is the critically acclaimed author of the teen novels Parrotfish, Blind Faith, Sandpiper, Heart on My Sleeve, Zigzag, and Hard Love (an American Library Association Michael L. Printz Honor Book and a Lambda Literary Award winner), and its sequel Love & Lies: Marisol’s Story. She has a bachelor’s degree from Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, and an MFA from the University of Iowa. A former children’s librarian, she lives with her husband in Haydenville, Massachusetts.

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    Parrotfish 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    My friend lent this book to me last year, and I read it in a night!! I adored it!! Grady is such a wonderful character! I would suggest this book to any open-minded teenager.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    As a trans person, there were parts of the book I could relate to easily. The only thing I disliked immensely was the use of "choose" in relation to gender. I did enjoy the book and would recommend it for some casual reading.
    AlternativeMind More than 1 year ago
    ParrotFish by Ellen Wittlinger was a beautifully written novel about a transgendered girl finding and learning to love himself along the way. I fell in love with the characters but mostly with the exciting bookworm Sebastian who becomes friends with Grady, disregarding any differences in her new appearance. After reading Parrotfish, you will understand the perceptive of a transgendered person, who feels forced to live up to society's expectations while feeling uncomfortable in their own skin. This is a great book to show how individuals can overcome their troubles and find acceptance within themselves and in others. This novel is highly recommended. =)
    TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
    Angela Katz-McNair isn't your typical teenage girl. She is, in fact, a boy. Sure, she may have the body parts that science uses to dictate her gender, but, in this case at least, science has gotten it all wrong.

    Shortly before Christmas, Angela announces to her family that she's decided to act on the issue of being a boy trapped in the body of a girl. Her name is now Grady. She's cut her hair short and she's wearing boy's clothes. Grady is determined to make the change permanent, and as complete as he possibly can.

    He starts by announcing his decisions to his family, which is met with assorted reactions. His dad seems to take the news in stride; after all, Grady was always a tomboy who did "guy stuff" with him anyway. His sister, Laura, is sure that Grady is out to ruin her life, and her high school experience. His younger brother, Charlie, doesn't care all that much, as long as the news doesn't affect his video game playing. And his mother, well, his mother isn't at all sure what to think, how to act, or what to do.

    Since Grady is determined, he doesn't just turn into a transgendered person at home. He makes his intentions known at school, too, and you can probably guess what some of the consequences are. Friends are no longer friends; indifferent acquaintances become outright enemies. But there are also bright moments in Grady's new life: he makes a new best friend, Sebastian, who introduces him to the scientific wonder of the parrotfish, an ocean fish who can, and does, change gender. He also finds allies in Russ and Kita, a powerhouse high school super-couple who raise new questions in Grady's mind when he starts falling for Kita himself.

    PARROTFISH is a wonderful, emotional novel dealing with the issues of identity and transgenderism. Previously, the only other book I've read on the matter is Julie Anne Peter's LUNA, in which a girl was born in the body of a boy. I have to say that both novels are wonderful, and for teens questioning their own identity, are more than just a good read. Ms. Wittlinger has also included resources in the back of PARROTFISH for help and support. Overall, this is a great work of fiction, but it's also a great story dealing with one teen's struggle to find himself outside of society's norm.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This novel is amazing! I wish there were more books out there like this one. This novel was so well written and has become a guidence tool for me as I'm going through my transion to full male. I love this book it's actually my favorite!
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This is the first fictional book about a female to male transition I've seen written well. It is also the first book about a trans individual that focuses not on the differences, but the similarities to everybody else. I would recomment it to anyone - even if they have had no contact with the GLBT community before.
    saze_says More than 1 year ago
    this is a great book that i think every transgender or gender queer teen should read
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    It is a great story, one that I really relate to as a trans guy, but there was one thing that bugged me: the use of the word "transgendered". It's a politically incorrect word because it implies that something has occurred to make someone trans, which isn't the case. Trans people are not transgendered, in the same way that black people are not blackened.
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