TOO BRIGHT TO SEE
By Kyle Lukoff
Now here is a beautiful little book that carries a great, great weight on its shoulders. In story terms, Kyle Lukoff’s “Too Bright to See” couldn’t be simpler: A young person, over one key summer, finds themself, embraces that self and moves on into the future stronger, more certain. Who could possibly object? Well, the young person in question is transgender, and the world into which this book is published is an increasingly unfriendly one for these children.
Around the country, legislatures are suddenly busy enacting a variety of laws against transgender boys and girls, including one denying them medical treatment to transition before they’re 18. Some of these laws have been too extreme for even very conservative governors to sign, but actual enactment, of course, is not the goal. The goal is political point-scoring off the back of a minority. I was a gay child in the ’80s; I’ve already been to this rodeo.
According to the Trevor Project, L.G.B.T.Q. kids consider, attempt and commit suicide far more than other groups of young people. In a political culture where their rights to an equal life — and in the case of transgender children, to even exist — are demonized and curtailed, queer kids die. They die, essentially, of shame, when there is not one tiny thing in their identities to be ashamed of.
This is the sort of unique burden children’s books are asked to carry time and again. So what a joy it is that Lukoff carries it off so gracefully. When I say lives will be saved because of this book, I only wish it were hyperbole.
Bug lives with her mother in rural Vermont. She’s 11, that terrible cusp of an age, right when everything is about to change. It’s the summer before middle school starts, and Bug’s best friend, Moira, has become a lot more interested in makeup, hoping to fit in. Bug has other concerns, especially the recent death of her beloved Uncle Roderick. A former drag queen in New York, Roderick was such a force of life that he may, in fact, be literally haunting Bug after his death. This is a very clever metaphor indeed, because Bug is haunted. When Moira talks winsomely of becoming a new person in middle school — “You don’t have to change, but don’t you want to?” — Bug remains troubled that what she sees in the mirror never matches how she sees herself. “A lot of books have a moral,” she tells us, “some lesson about how you have to stay true to who you are. … But those books never tell you how to figure out what your self is.”
I am being particular about pronoun use here because Bug uses “she” throughout the story until the moment of self-discovery — and then he doesn’t. “Too Bright to See” is the story of what it’s like to realize the gender you were assigned at birth is not the one you actually are. Lukoff — a transgender man himself — tells the story with such truth, such purity, such remarkable emotional clarity that you may be moved to tears by Bug’s triumph in the end.
I occasionally wished “Too Bright to See” was in something other than the earnest first-person present tense that so litters contemporary books for children, but this is a small cavil. This book is a gentle, glowing wonder, full of love and understanding, full of everything any of us would wish for our children. It will almost certainly be banned in many places, but your child almost certainly needs to read it.