Book Review – Being Jazz

TITLE: Being Jazz: My life as a (Transgender) teen
AUTHOR: Jazz Jennings
FORMAT: Hardback

For those who don’t know, Jazz Jennings first hit America’s psyche as the 4-year-old kid who knew he was really a she. Since that moment 10+ years ago, Jazz has gained a bit more fame, and now has a children’s book and a television show, both titled I Am Jazz, and a slew of awards for being things like “amazing” and “wonderful” and “courageous” and whatever else in her quest to be an advocate for trans issues.

I wanted to read the book to understand better.

It’s listed as a memoir, published by a children’s publisher, and, at least in my library, shelved in the very odd…genre?… of YA Non-Fiction.
I don’t know what I thought I was expecting, but chances are that I wanted a look at actual trans issues.
What I got was…not that.

First of all, a then 14-year-old makes for a really boring memoir subject. I mean, take away the trans stuff, and all you have is soccer and good grades. And the book mostly glossed past all of that.

And it totally glossed over a lot of the trans stuff too. “Hey, my parents had to deal with me not being able to play soccer, but I still got to practice with the team, so at least I had that…” Um.
Somewhere about halfway through this book it dawned on me why I dislike the show so much, and it’s criticism here, too… Nothing ever is bad or hard or whatever. I mean, even when something *was* going wrong, she’d gloss over it like it was a little footnote. “My parents never told me, so everything was wonderful!”

Actually, on that note, it glossed over most stuff period. She used the phrase “chick with a dick” twice, but couldn’t actually use words to describe body parts when she talked about herself. She talked about her “D” the same way Anastasia Steele talks about her “sex”. (That is to say, stupidly.)

Come on. I know you’re not going to get the most amazing story ever told from a kid, but there are plenty of bios and memoirs about kids that were interesting to read (Ryan White, for example). This one was a snooze. The only thing that saved me from falling asleep was that it read so fast because Jazz herself is the one that wrote it.

Another criticism I have is that Jazz sort of assumed the only people that would ever read the memoir were in a trans world somehow. A lot of the chapters start off as stories but then near the end of the chapter, the fourth wall comes down and there’s a part where Jazz says something like “Hey, reader, if you need help, you should look at the appendix”…

So, again, a book I had high hopes for that ended up pretty much being crap. I mean, I don’t see a lot of purpose to the book and it’s totally fluff. Even the Q&As at the end of the book with her family seemed like crap. In the interview with her brothers, we basically get “We hate being lumped together as twins” (irony – theirs was the only interview with two people at once) and “She got to meet the president and we didn’t, but it’s okay!”

Since it’s like the only resource out there for trans kids, I should probably cut it a little slack, but the fact that there’s little resource here and just a fake sense of perfect rainbows, I’m giving it a 2 out of 5. Maybe the book will help somebody who is trans, but for anyone who isn’t, there’s nothing helpful here.


Book Review-The Last Jazz Band by Charles Boeckman

Title: The Last Jazz Band

Author: Charles Boeckman

Format: Paperback Edition by Jazztex Publishing Company

Published: 2011


Charles Boeckman recently passed away, less than a month from the day I’m writing this review. For those who are not familiar with Mister Boeckman, he was 94 when he passed and had been writing since the 1930s, beginning in Pulp Magazines and moving to the digest magazines of the 1950s and on into books and collections, right up until last year when Pro Se Productions published his last fiction work.  Known largely as a writer of mysteries, crime stories, and westerns, Mister Boeckman was also quite well known as a jazz musician and band leader in Texas.  As a matter of fact, much of Boeckman’s fiction blended the genres of mystery and crime with his love for jazz, many of his characters actually being musicians of some type, everyone from Johnny Nickle who played the trumpet on a cursed song to Big Lip who solved a murder out of loyalty to a friend.

The Last Jazz Band in a way can be seen as autobiographical fiction to a point as it focuses on a Jazz band that forms shortly after World War II in Corpus Christi, Texas, Boeckman’s hometown.  Boeckman’s own life experiences definitely color every word, you can almost hear every peal of laughter and every note of music as the story of Charlie Niel unfolds. Neil, a veteran of the Second World War, returns home to find his wife has died. Without a life now, he returns to the one he’d known before flying dangerous missions overseas and reconnects with his old buddy, Ted Riley, a rounder of drinker who blows a mean tenor sax.  Along with Skinny Lang, a bass player, and Cemetery Wilson, the piano player who owns the car that will be their transportation, Niel and Riley put a combo together that really sings. And that’s just where the fun, pathos, and adventure starts.

The Last Jazz Band is a book that actually makes me think a lot of M*A*S*H, the Richard Hooker books, not the movie or tv series.  The way these two works are similar is the almost real life, accidental way that the characters in both come together and how they blend in unexpected, yet heart touching ways.  Boeckman not only nails the jazz musician aspects of these characters, but he really captures the emotional weight that their own individual lives leave them with and how their time in the band both relieves and adds to what they carry.

The only true negative to The Last Jazz Band is the feeling that Boeckman could have gone even further.  The disconnected way the story is told, sort of how real life happens, is engaging, but it also feels like that just about when the characters are on the verge of blossoming or collapsing, when it seems we are just about to get some really neat insight, Boeckman moves on to the next episode in their lives.  It is usually a desire of a reader to be left wanting more, but there were too many places in The Last Jazz Band where that feeling was one of emptiness, not anticipation.

Charles Boeckman’s The Last Jazz Band deserves four out of five pages. Even if you’re not a fan of jazz, there is something in this book for every person who has ever had that one friend that might not be the best person, but was the best friend you could have at the moment.  Combine that with Boeckman’s love for Jazz almost rising off the page and this is a winner.

The Last Jazz Band gets Five out of Six bullets in my gun as well.  Although I wish there’d been a bit more meat on the bone, it delivers fairly well as it is.

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