Just Happy to Be Here by Naomi Kanakia
An Indian American trans girl who transfers from her prestigious all-boys’ school to the sister school that she’s always idealized, and has to decide whether she’s content to be treated like a second-class citizen or whether to risk her place by demanding that her school live up to its own principles
LENGTH: 320 pages
AGE: Young Adult
Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Main Character(s), Trans Main Character(s).
*I received a free review copy in exchange for an honest review of this book.
JUST HAPPY TO BE HERE is about Tara, an Indian American trans girl who has been permitted to take classes at an all-girls private school, but is still enrolled at the associated all-boys school. The gap between being permitted to take classes and actually being enrolled like the girl she is becomes unavoidable when she tries to get into a quasi-secret society, the Sibyls, which has a scholarship attached. Dealing with intersections of transmisogyny, racism, classism, and her parents' precarious green card status, Tara is trying to just be one of the girls. She doesn't want to be an exception, or someone special, she just wants to be a girl who gets to have the right hormones in her body and is allowed to try for the Sibyls like anyone else in her Latin class.
I love the friendships with the other girls. Especially the way Felicity/Antigone encourages Tara to use the Sibyl name she chose for herself, not one the adults might think is more acceptable. I've played the computer game Hades, and I was excited when Tara admitted that this game is how she came up with her name. It's a fun moment, and it seems like part of the shift from into Felicity and Tara becoming friends instead of Tara just aspiring to be around her by way of joining the Sibyls.
The setting is a deliberately offset version of the United States, where the state of Virginia has anti-trans laws and a hostile governor. I like this decision, especially when what states are and are not safe for trans people is a constantly moving target. The choice to use a state which currently doesn't have such laws makes it clear that this isn't meant to be a one-to-one guide for real trans kids. This is is expounded upon in the (extensive and very helpful) afterword from the author.
One of the things about trying to exit a space that someone else is trying to fit into, or vice versa, is that it can make it harder to communicate even if you potentially have a lot in common. I'm a nonbinary person, not a trans woman or trans-femme person, so many of the specific details of the story didn't resonate with me directly (I viscerally cannot understand wanting to be on estrogen, for example). Even with my own experiences eschewing the direction Tara is drawn towards, it completely makes sense why she feels how she does, and I could relate to the shape of her struggles. I appreciate the way these dynamics are handled in the book, showing that trans people aren't a monolith. For example, other aspects of Tara's life have impacts for her that aren't felt by Liam, a trans boy who still attends the all-girls school. One thing JUST HAPPY TO BE HERE captures so well is that most trans people don't want to have to be the best, brightest, most awesome person in every domain of our lives, we just want to be ourselves and not be shut out or harassed for it.
I'm so glad that this a book for trans girls who find themselves in the space of wanting to be themselves without being forced to be extraordinary just to get what their peers take for granted. JUST HAPPY TO BE HERE while speaks directly to the precarity caused when intersections of racism and classism combine with transphobia to make a terrible situation even more dire, as well as trying to be a normal girl with friends when things are difficult.
Graphic/Explicit CW for transphobia.
Moderate CW for racism, homophobia, deadnaming, misgendering, dysphoria, classism.
Minor CW for sexual content, ableist language, bullying, drug use, deportation.