Caroline the Future Librarian

Caroline Davis | LIBR 265-10 | SJSU | Wrenn-Estes

Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger

Title: Parrotfish
Author: Ellen Wittlinger
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
Date: July 2007
ISBN-13: 9781416916222

Plot Summary: When Angela decides to make a change that feels right – to start living as a boy called Grady – he can’t believe that changing one small detail about your identity makes everything different.  His sister thinks he’s a freak, his mother can’t stop freaking out, and even his best friend, Eve, doesn’t want to be seen with him anymore.  And a bully at school named Danya has made it her personal mission to attack and abuse Grady.  Fortunately, there are more understanding kids who become his new friends, including Sebastian, a geeky classmate who thinks that Grady’s transformation is cool, and Kita, a gorgeous and understanding senior on whom Grady develops a huge crush.  Meanwhile, Grady is still figuring out what being a boy actually means, and trying to figure out whether he should act like a stereotypical male or just be true to himself.

Critical Evaluation: Parrotfish is told in the first-person from Grady’s perspective, an often sharp or sarcastic commentary on life that sometimes manifests itself in short imaginary scripted dialogues where Grady pretends that everyone frankly says what they are really feeling.  There are some good questions raised in this book – not only what would the experience of changing one’s gender in high school look like, but also why does our society place such strict gender roles on us in the first place, and what would it look like if we rejected the notion of what a male or female should be and just acted like ourselves?  I think this book is important for young adult literature for starting this discussion, and hopefully creating more understanding about this subject – I just wish that I liked the book more.  Some of the characters were just ridiculous (especially her Christmas obsessed father who is too clueless to know where to find the dishes in his own house), and even though the novel is only three years old, the pop culture references already feel dated (Paris Hilton as the paragon of femininity?).  Which is a shame, because I think the message of the novel needs to be heard.  Hopefully more young adult novelists will continue to approach this subject and keep the discussion relevant.

Reader’s Annotation: Angela just made one change – to start living as a boy called Grady – and suddenly everything is different.  Can’t everyone understand that he’s still the same person?

Author Information: Ellen Wittlinger was born in 1948 in Belleville, Illinois.  Her parents owned a grocery store attached to their house, so she spent time helping out around the shop.  She went to Millikin University in Decatur and moved out to Ashland, Oregon after graduation, before earning her M.F.A. at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa.  A book of her poetry, called Breakers, was published in 1979.

She spent a two year fellowship in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and tried her hand at playwriting.  Wittlinger eventually became a children’s librarian, and had two children (Kate and Morgan), and decided to try her hand at writing young adult fiction.  Her first YA novel, Lombardo’s Law, was published in 1993.  Wittlinger currently lives with her husband, two cats and dog in a Victorian house in western Massachusetts.

Genre: Realistic Fiction, Issues, GLBT

Curriculum Ties: Gender, Sociology

Booktalking Ideas:
1) If Grady is still the same person and has only changed one detail, why do you think his friends and family have such a hard time understanding that?
2) Discuss the differences between gender and sex.
3) Did this book help you understand more about what it means to be transgendered?

Interest Age: 14 and older

Challenge Issues: very minor sexual content, some people will find the subject controversial

Challenge Defense Ideas:

• Become familiar with the book and its content.

• Refer to the collection development policy of the library, if none, see here to develop one right away.

• Refer to reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist available for viewing on

• Try to get reviews of the book from teens who have read it.

Selection: This book was assigned for this course and is important for this collection because I want to include books on GLBT issues.


Ellen Wittlinger’s website.

Parrotfish discussion questions.

GLBT National Help Center


May 9, 2010 - Posted by | Books | , ,

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