Review: Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde

In honor of the paperback release of Catherine Ryan Hyde’s fabulous novel, Jumpstart the World, I wanted to re-post my review of the book.  Let me know what you think, and head over HERE to learn more about the author and the book. If you follow Catherine on Twitter (@cryanhyde) you will also find links to recent guest posts about the book and some awesome giveaways happening! 

Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Final Verdict: 3.75 out of 4.0

YTD: 11

4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful

Catherine Ryan Hyde’s touching and daring Jumpstart the World is all about life and its many complications and confusions. Fifteen-year-old Elle is dumped off in her own apartment, by a mother with seriously troubling narcissistic/co-dependency issues. She chooses her new love interest over her own daughter, and while mom and her man are off on a cruise together (during Elle’s sweet sixteen birthday, no less), Elle is left to learn to live on her own – she gets a cat (Toto, a cat with a face only an adopted mother can love); she meets a few people at school and slowly starts to form friendships, sort of; and she introduces herself to the young couple living next door, Frank and Molly. There, the real trouble begins. Frank is not exactly who he appears to be – he is a sweet, kind, intelligent man, except that he was not always a man. Elle’s new friendships are tested when this information comes to light, and she must learn to accept others and deal with her own confusing romantic feelings, or return to that lonely, isolated world she had just begun to break free from.

3 – Characters well developed.

There are so many interesting characters, from Elle and her mother, to Frank and Molly, right down to that strange, sad little cat and Elle’s surprisingly new-found best friend, Wilbur. What is great about each of the characters is that they truly are identifiable and independent from one another – they each have their own quirks, personalities, and annoyances. There is definitely some room for growth, though. With so many interesting people interacting with one another, I definitely found myself wishing that the book was 50 or 100 pages longer, so there would be more time to learn about all these wonderful and interesting people. Wilbur, for instance, and Frank – there seemed so much to know about each of them – so much history behind each of their present personalities, but that history was reduced to one or two descriptive lines. Powerful descriptive lines, no doubt, but unbearably short. Elle’s relationship with her mother, too, was dynamic and intriguing – one of the most realistic and authentic relationships in the book, but it was kept somewhat on the periphery. Overall, I loved the characters in general, except, if I am being honest, for the main character. Elle was the one that bothered me most – she seemed so incredibly self-centered and juvenile. Of course, she was only sixteen and she clearly had a lot of growing up to do, but this did not prevent me from wanting to shake my fist at her on more than a few occasions. Still, when a writer can make you that irritated by or exasperated with one of her characters, that is typically the sign of a job well-done.

4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.

Hyde’s prose moves along wonderfully well. It is evenly paced and fluid. The narration seems genuine and believable. Probably the greatest achievement is the narrative voice, which resonates strongly as that of a teenage girl, muddle-minded and working things out on her own for the first time. I do not typically relate to female narrators or main characters, so I rarely find myself reading books with these components; however, it was very easy to relate to Elle and the single-best reason for this was the narration – it draws you in and it appeals to or calls to mind that little outsider within every one of us, asking us to remember that we are all the same, really – people just looking for a place, similar in most ways, including in the way we all often self-consciously feel different from the rest.

Additional Elements:
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

This is the second book I have read that dealt with the issue of gender identity and/or gender reassignment, the first being Eugenides’s Middlesex . Unlike that book, though, which deals with a hermaphroditic main character coming to realize who he is and how he was born “different,” this book is the first I have read which deals with Female-to-Male transgender reassignment or identification. The only minor complaint I have is the idea that “transphobia” does not exist in the GLBT community. When Frank is hospitalized, Elle stays with him because of his fear of being abused or mistreated there (due to the possibility of nurses/doctors not reacting well to his gender identity versus biology). When a male nurse comes to check on Frank, he identifies himself to Elle as a gay man and thus, one of the “community” – so therefore will have Frank’s back. Unfortunately, the issue is not so cut-and-dry and transphobia does exist, even within the GLBT community. Again, it is a minor complaint, as there are genuinely decent gay/straight people out there who would come to the aid of someone in trouble, as that nurse did, and I definitely do not think the author would actually argue that this issue exists in such a binary; but, I do wish the issue had not been championed on one side in the manner that it was. One of the greatest achievements of the book is its inclusion of diverse characters, from straight women and men, to gay women and men, to questioning youth and transgender adults. There are also the separations within the subcategories – the ultra-feminine gay teen male who still identifies as male in juxtaposition to the masculine female who reassigns as male. There are also the two Bobs (or Bobby’s) – the somewhat under-explained but distinguishable masculine/feminine roles in a male-male relationship. All of these different people exist in life together – never in harmony, because life is too chaotic for that, but in reality. We are what we are and we are who we are, seems to be the message. The issue of transgender-phobia and homophobia, too, is examined, but so are the ideas of coming-of-age and discovering one’s self and one’s passions – things like art, photography, mental illness, and independence.

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: Teenage YA, Adult

Interest: Gender Identity, GLBT, Homophobia, Family, Friendship, Coming-of-Age

Notable Quotes:

“Love always looks nice.  I don’t really know anyone who doesn’t enjoy it when they see it.  Anyone who doesn’t, I don’t really want to know them.”

Originally posted on 2/26/11 at 10:48pm

4 Comments on “Review: Jumpstart the World by Catherine Ryan Hyde

  1. Pingback: Guest post, giveaway and scavenger with Catherine Ryan Hyde! | Bookalicious

  2. This sounds like a really interesting book. I am a nursing student and about a month ago we had a panel from the GLBT group at my university speak with us about the best way to provide good healthcare to the GLBT population because they are often underserved and/or discriminated against. Just listening to their experiences and seeing the prejudice in the healthcare system from their perspective was really enlightening. This sounds like it would be a good supplement to that experience. Thanks for your review!


    • Just the fact that your program would welcome that kind of panel is encouraging to hear, and I’m glad that you got something out of the experience! The book was great, not just for this particular aspect of it, but for the story as a whole – what it says about family, friendships, individuality and growing up. It’s a great read.


  3. This sounds an interesting book and it is certainly a great review. Thank you so much for an insightful review of a book which will hopefully influence attitudes in a positive way. I think it is hard for writers to present things in a politically correct fashion (ie. admitting that there may be discrimination within a discriminated against community) because they may write about the world that they want on a subconscious level rather than the more complex reality. It is also important not to judge fiction as if it was what the author ‘believes’ as the narrative voice may be different from what they may put in an essay. That is not to say that your review has done that, it is rather to say that your fab review has helped me think about this issue a lot. I hope very much that your current novel comes along well too (your word count is v. impressive).


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