John Boyne writes off online critics with strong early sales The Sunday Times 21.04.19

The original article is here.

Irish author John Boyne’s latest novel is the target of an online campaign aiming to deter readers from purchasing it, following criticism from the transgender community over its title and a newspaper article the author wrote to promote it.

My Brother’s Name is Jessica, aimed at young readers and published three days ago, is about a boy named Sam whose older brother, Jason, comes out as transgender. Jason then becomes Sam’s sister and changes her name to Jessica.

Members of the transgender community have taken issue with the title, which they say misgendered Jessica by referring to her as the protagonist’s brother rather than sister. They claim this was hurtful and would not have been done by a transgender author.

Some people also took issue with an article Boyne wrote in the Irish Times in which he said he supported trans rights but rejected the word “cis”, a term given to people who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. Most people would be classified as cis men and cis women. Boyne, best known for writing The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, later deleted his Twitter account, complaining he’d been subjected to abuse and threats.

The novel has now been targeted by users of Goodreads, an influential review aggregator website that operates in a similar fashion to TripAdvisor. My Brother’s Name is Jessica had a rating of just 2.71 out of five this weekend. Boyne’s novels have an average of 4.13.

Many reviewers gave the book one star despite stating they had not read it. “I didn’t actually read this book, but as the spouse of a trans-person I can say the title is both ignorant and hurtful,” one wrote. “Jessica is the main character’s sister.”

Another Goodreads user headlined their review “10 Things I Hate About My Brother’s Name is Jessica”. Another one-star appraisal read: “So I haven’t actually read this book, but the title [and] description are offensive and transphobic, so I’m gonna go out on a limb and say the rest of the book will probably be offensive and transphobic too. Cis people, if you want to be an ally, skip this book and read something written by a trans person.”

Aoife Martin, director of Transgender Equality Network Ireland, has said Boyne is a cis man, whether he likes it or not, and is speaking “from a position of cis privilege”.

Perhaps because of the debate, early reports indicate Boyne’s book is selling well in Irish bookshops. Puffin, an imprint of Penguin, claimed it was proud to publish the novel. Eason said it expected demand to be similar to that for Boyne’s previous works. Dubray Books said the controversy wasn’t affecting sales. “We haven’t had any comments from customers coming in,” said Susan Walsh of Dubray. “The book is out, it’s on display, it’s selling. John Boyne has an awful lot of fans, so there’s always going to be a lot of interest in his new book.”

Louisa Cameron of Raven Books, an independent shop in Blackrock, Co Dublin, said she had a copy of the book on shelves but if people were looking to educate themselves on transitioning, she had many alternatives to recommend. “If somebody was just being curious and wanted to read a book about what it means for a kid to transition, I might suggest a different one,” she said. She cited George by Alex Gino, a non-binary author, as an example.

In a statement last week, Boyne said he welcomed the debate. “I do not believe the trans community bears any relationship to, or any responsibility for, the abuse I have received online,” he said. “I stand 100% behind all trans people, I respect them as brave pioneers, I applaud their determination to live authentic lives despite the abuse they also receive, and I will always do so.”