Book Reviews · LGBTQ

Review: Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt

Amy Ellis Nutt’s Becoming Nicole is the triumphant story of the Maines family, and how they overcame discrimination in their small-town Maine community and internal struggles within their own hearts. In 1997, Wayne and Kelly Maines adopted what they thought were identical twin boys, naming one Wyatt and the other Jonas.

Photo Credit: Amy Ellis Nutt

By the time Wyatt was two, it was clear to Wayne and Kelly that he was not comfortable in his own body. He was happiest when he could play with dolls and wear feminine clothing. For the next year, Kelly and Wayne would each fight different battles; Kelly to figure out what Wyatt was trying to tell them with his behavior and preferences. Wayne to hold onto the idea of what he considered a normal family.

What Wyatt understood about himself, whether he felt different or odd or broken, neither Kelly nor Wayne really knew, until one day Wyatt looked up at his parents and said, “You know, I can have an operation that will fix me.”   (p. 54).

Amy Ellis Nutt spent almost four years reporting the journey of the Maines family. During that time, they learned about gender and acceptance and how to best love their children. Especially Wyatt. It took longer for Wayne, who left much of the advocacy up to Kelly. However, at the name change hearing, “Wayne explained that his son Wyatt had been expressing feelings he was a girl from the age of two, and that his insistence he was born in the wrong body had made it difficult for him in school. They were convinced, and Wyatt’s doctors agreed, that he would be allowed to transition to being a girl” (p.117).

Of course, Nicole had been a girl the whole time, it was just a matter of changing people’s understanding of what it meant to be transgender and how to talk about her in a way that respected how she had presented as a smaller child. The Maines didn’t realize, however, that the name change was the easiest battle they would fight. A local resident began to stir up trouble when Nicole began to use the girl’s restroom at school. This led to harassment of both Nicole and her family, and an eventual lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Becoming Nicole is the story of one family’s resilience.

Of how love can break down even the strongest barriers, and of how slowly our country is becoming more accepting of the transgender community. A New York Times bestseller, Becoming Nicole has been named One of the Ten Best Books of the Year by People and One of the Best Books of the Year by both The New York Times Book Review and Men’s Journal. It has also received awards as A Stonewall Honor Book in Nonfiction and a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Nonfiction (Random House).

At forty-two chapters and 260 pages, Becoming Nicole will keep you hooked from the beginning to the end. It contains a resource guide, an NPR Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross, and an interview with the Maines family. There are discussion questions if you wish to use the book for a study group.

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