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My Brother's Name Is Jessica

Narrated by: Joe Jameson
Length: 5 hrs and 25 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (56 ratings)

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Summary

Penguin presents the audiobook of My Brother's Name Is Jessica, written by John Boyne, read by Joe Jameson.

Sam Waver's life has always been pretty quiet. A bit of a loner, he struggles to make friends, and his busy parents often make him feel invisible. Luckily for Sam, his older brother, Jason, has always been there for him. Sam idolises Jason, who seems to have life sorted - he's kind, popular and amazing at football, and girls are falling over themselves to date him.   

But then one evening Jason calls his family together to tell them that he's been struggling with a secret for a long time. A secret which quickly threatens to tear them all apart. His parents don't want to know, and Sam simply doesn't understand.  

Because what do you do when your brother says he's not your brother at all? That he thinks he's actually...your sister?

©2019 John Boyne (P)2019 Penguin Books Ltd

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A missed opportunity

This is the third John Boyne book I've listened to in the space of a month and, as it's a YA novel, I am not its target audience but after so many negative reviews on other sites and having enjoyed Boyne's other books, I wanted to review it having listened to it and provide an opinion based on that.

Boyne wrote sensitively and with subtlety about growing up gay in ‘The Heart's Invisible Furies’; he has also written on the Holocaust, religious doubt and more, so I was pretty sure he would do credit to a story about being transgender, but having listened, if you'd told me ‘My Brother’s Name is Jessica’ was by a different author, I wouldn't have been surprised. Whilst some elements work, overall I found it heavy handed and lacking in Boyne's trademark humour and nuance.

Perhaps this is partly because of the novel’s point of view. It is told by 13-year-old Sam, brother of the 17-year-old Jessica. Sam is not terribly interesting or likable and his parents are even worse. The parent's reaction to Jessica's coming out is very extreme; they seemed so ignorant and reactionary as to have stepped out of a different era. This is 2019 and read as if it was set 15 years ago. Or maybe I've been living in Brighton too long! Boyne's solution is to make Jessica’s parents Tory politicians, which seemed an easy opt out – they are little more than caricatures. We don't get Jessica's viewpoint often. When we do get it, we feel for her, but I would have liked much more. I also found the insistence on calling the trans character not just 'Jason', but 'my brother Jason' over-egged.

The reading is good and this is an important subject, but I wouldn’t recommend it with the same enthusiasm I have Boyne’s other novels, though I’m interested in what other readers and listeners think.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Gender identity tale from a sibling's viewpoint

Boyne has created some unforgettable characters and stories, for both adults and younger readers, some modern classics. He has never shied away from some very heart-rending themes.

This latest didn't quite hit the spot for me. In many ways, Sam's viewpoint is authentic - his confusion, anger and inability to comprehend his brother's metamorphosis. In others, the almost stereotypical way that their parents, school-friends and the media/society at large seem to view their matter is out-of-date, overblown and unrealistic.

Sam is 13, the second child of a Cabinet Minister and her assistant, brother to a popular football star. When 17-year-old Jason reveals to the family that he is in fact now identifying as a girl, Sam and his parents alike are bewildered, indignant.

With their parents trying to force normality back on the family and Jason resisting, Sam struggles with his agitation and ignorance (seriously - would this generation have learnt nothing of transgender issues in the 21st century classroom?), whilst undergoing some rather shocking clichéd bullying at school.

I really felt for Jason/Jessica, contending with the rampant intolerance and misinformation displayed here, most of which seemed incredibly old-fashioned. I actually wanted to hear from from her. Sam veered between naivety and just plain selfish/unenlightened. At thirteen, I felt he should have been more worldly, their parents definitely so, in the world of government and political posturing.

The parents are both grating and unsympathetic - focused on their careers over family most of the time, wanting to cover over problems to maintain appearances, but that storyline does yield some reward.

Sam himself has room for character growth. Jason/Jessica disappears for a large section of the book, leaving Sam to work through things without the influence of the person who has started his path towards maturity.

The audiobook gives Sam as narrator a young-sounding voice, more the child than the future man, which fits. As a reader/listener, I found his point of view more gullible than I would have expected from a modern-day teenager, but the format did suit the story and its telling. The voices of Sam's family come across as individuals that you can picture and it's a straightforward book to follow aurally.

This may prove a positive source narrative for basing gender identity discussions on with teenagers, for parents and teachers. It raises points that can help dispel myths and misconceptions, though I would be interested to know how the attitudes in here measure up to those of real teenagers, and how transgender individuals see their own experiences of opening up and how it compares.

For ages 12/13 and older.

With thanks to Nudge Books for providing a sample Audible copy.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Ruth
  • Oxfordshire
  • 09-06-19

Amazing

I loved this book so much. It made me smile , laugh, cry.... a lot. So moving, beautifully written. I want my sons to read it, I want any young people to read it.
Well done John Boyne

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Be Warned This Will Bring You To Tears

I have heard hundreds of books and this has to be the best narrated one I’ve ever heard. This book moved me so much after reading I got the audible book. It moved me to laughter, genuine tears and such hope as it’s such an important book that everyone should hear to enjoy and educate

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weeper

This was one beautiful book. I was attracted by the title and it did not disappoint. I did spend quite a bit of time wimpering because of the story and the pain and confusion of Sam. it was well researched