The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang. First Second. 2018.
This is not solely a fluffy feel-good cute story, as many reviews describe it. There are lovely and sweet moments in it, but it also has other things going on that may be difficult and painful for trans and/or non-binary readers.
I enjoyed many things about this YA graphic novel. The art was spectacular, really drew me in. The pacing of the story was lovely, just a bit meditative but still compelling. I really fell for both of the MCs and wanted them to find ways to be happy and successful. I was especially rooting for the dressmaker’s success.
I loved all the details about the clothes, and the way the dressmaker thought about clothes, her vision for fashion, how much she cared about it. I liked watching her bloom as she had more freedom to do what she wanted to do, and felt for her when she was struggling with the realities of being secretive. I loved watching the prince try on the clothes that felt right, those drawings were so evocative and grabbed my heart.
The prince is genderfluid, I think? It’s not completely clear. I’m going to use they/them pronouns to refer to the prince because I’m pretty sure they are non-binary, and the story doesn’t happen in a setting where they would have access to neutral pronouns.
There are some really lovely moments where the prince feels seen and supported in their gender, gets excited about presenting feminine, gets celebrated in a gender that they thought they would never be celebrated in. I really appreciated these moments. They were lovely and touching and hit me in the feels.
Unfortunately, for much of the story, the prince is closeted and feels like their non-binary gender is ruining their life and that they can never really be themself and be a monarch. I found the misery and self loathing painful to read, as a non-binary reader.
And then the prince gets deliberately outed as someone who wears dresses, with a series of very classic transmisogynistic tropes. I found this sequence in the story very difficult to read. I am very tired of trans and/or non-binary characters in YA getting outed.
Given the context of the story and it’s arc, the happy ending provided felt too easy and pat, and like it was geared much younger than the rest of the story. It basically seemed to present the idea that public performance of acceptance of gender difference would eradicate all transmisogyny and the prince would be free to be themself.
The romance that is included in the happy ending felt unearned, and like it was there to give a reason for the intimacy of the relationship between the prince and their dressmaker, and that made me sad. Supporting someone’s gender expression is intimate, and supporting someone to achieve her dream is intimate. This intimacy doesn’t need to be romantic, and it felt off to me to frame it as romance.
- Genderfluid man MC
- Asian American author
Content Warnings (in white, highlight to read)
Transmisogyny, trans hatred, self loathing around gender, transfeminine character is outed by their clothes being removed, kidnapping, parental rejection for being non-binary.
- Source of the book: ARC from the publisher
- I have had no contact with the author.
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