1010 A trans tale of triumph
by Tash McAdam
Victoria: Orca Books, 2020
$10.95 / 9781459824362
Reviewed by Carol Anne Shaw
Vancouver author Tash McAdams has written a little gem in Blood Sport. Part of the Orca Soundings series — short, high-interest novels targeted at teen readers — this novel is a fast-paced and exciting read.
It is the story of Jason, an eighteen-year-old boy about to age out of the foster-care system, who finds himself struggling to come to terms with the details surrounding his older sister Becca’s sudden death.
While going through his sister’s things, Jason accidentally comes across a photograph of a local boxing establishment, along with numerous newspaper clippings about missing girls from Vancouver’s downtown east side — Jason’s neighbourhood. Why would Becca have this stuff? What was going on?
Reports say she died of a drug overdose, but Jason knows his sister. She would never use. It doesn’t make any sense; something just isn’t adding up. But the photograph leads Jason to Ray’s Place, and before he knows it, he finds himself pulled into the world of boxing. And for the first time in a long time, he starts to feel better; he starts to feel as though he fits. And let’s face it, when you’re trans, that isn’t always an easy thing to feel.
But not only does boxing provide Jason with a way to process his myriad emotions, Ray’s Place becomes a kind of refuge. The people there are so accepting. They “get” him, and “X,” Ray’s Place’s head honcho, sees a spark of something in Jason that Jason never knew he possessed. He then does pretty well in the boxing ring, so much so that it isn’t long before he’s signed up for his first fight. For the first time in forever, Jason feels empowered, like he matters. The struggles he has had to endure as he transitions are a little easier to take now that he has loyal friends. He no longer feels judged; now, he feels cared for and respected.
But things aren’t always as they seem, and when Jason discovers something in X’s office which provides a direct link to his sister’s death, he grows suspicious. Throwing caution to the wind, and with the help of his new friends, Jason embarks on a dangerous crime-solving mission that solves the mystery of his sister’s death and sees justice served.
Blood Sport is fast-paced and plausible, and the writing is clear and concise. The characters are believable and the dialogue authentic.
But ultimately, it is Jason who stole my heart. He is kind and empathetic yet wonderfully flawed. A typical teenager, he can be moody and sullen. He isn’t a stranger to cutting classes, and he doesn’t always tell the absolute truth. YAY! (Because the last thing I want to read about is a perfect teenager.)
Tash McAdams, who identifies as trans and queer, has crafted a gripping story of grief, loyalty, and of finding one’s place in the world. While Jason is trans and has faced his fair share of obstacles along his chosen path, Blood Sport does not make his sexual identity the novel’s focus. It is refreshing to read about a marginalized character struggling with things unrelated to their sexuality — a step, I think, in the right direction. And while we need more diverse books, we also need to recognize that we are all in this human game together, no matter how we identify. We all have hopes and fears, strengths and weaknesses, and a personal journey to take.
That being said, the book aptly addresses challenges faced by trans people in our current-day society, both physical ones (binding and packing) and those of an emotional nature, such as finding the courage to come out. But these things are woven seamlessly into the narrative, and never pull the plot off-course.
The end of the novel is very gratifying; we get to see Jason step into his power, taking the steps needed to build an authentic life for himself. It is a classic tale of triumph in the face of adversity, but with no sloppy sentiment to run over the pages’ edges.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I look forward to reading more of Tash McAdam’s work.
Carol Anne Shaw lives and writes in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. She is the author of the award-winning Hannah series, published in Vancouver by Ronsdale Press, and is an on-again-off-again part-time visual arts instructor at a local high school at Shawnigan Lake. When she isn’t writing, she is editing other people’s writing — young adult fiction being her specialty — or she is painting at her easel. She is particularly fond of mentoring young writers and helping them discover their own unique voice. A big lover of the outdoors, Carol Anne is no stranger to the myriad of forest trails that surround her home, a passion she shares with her (coffee-making) husband and their dog, Gordie. Editor’s note: Carol Anne Shaw reviewed books by K.L. Denman, Kristin Butcher, Shelley Hrdlitschka, Shannon Sinn, and Darren Groth, among others, for The Ormsby Review.
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