The Passing Playbook is a young adult sports romcom about a soccer-loving trans teenager who has to fight for his right to play on his school team. When Spencer moves schools to Oakley, the most liberal school in Ohio, after trouble at his previous school, he wants to focus on football and finding his feet, and not telling people he’s trans. It’s going great—new teammates, a guy who might be something more—until an Ohio law about birth certificates and a rule from the league sees him benched for every game, and Spencer has to decide whether to publicly fight for his rights or not.
This book is such a breath of fresh air in how it treats Spencer: he has a supportive if sometimes too overprotective or not quite ‘getting it’ family, a trans best friend from summer camp to talk to, and within the narrative, he gets to come out to people by telling them himself, which is often not the case in YA novels set in schools. The story is centred around him fighting for what he wants, but with a wider underlying plot around the importance of fighting for rights for others too, like supporting a classmate who is arguing they should push for gender neutral bathrooms.
The romance has arguably the heavier plotline, with Spencer’s love interest Justice being a gay kid from a not-well-off conservative Christian family for whom a soccer scholarship is his means of escape, but it’s still sweet too. Everything comes together in a feel-good way (there’s actually a comment about whether Spencer and Justice like musical comedies and feel-good made for TV movies respectively, which is kinda what this book is a combination of) which makes it good for readers looking for a book that isn’t focused on the trauma or flaws of the protagonist, but on him still growing as a person by realising he wants to fight for his and other people’s rights.
Having high school sports trans narratives is crucial at a time like this, when restrictions on trans teens’ right to take part in sports are happening and are in the news, and the fact the sport is soccer rather than American football (being British I have to make that distinction) possibly gives this book a more international appeal. The book has a powerful message, but more importantly, it’s fun and shows a regular teenager living his life, albeit in a romcom universe where things work out a little more smoothly. It’s good to have complex narratives in YA, but it’s also good to have books like this that provide a feel-good yet gripping experience.
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