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I want to preface my review by saying… I am going to refer to the main character as Rowan Beck. Rowan is a 10-year-old transgender boy. While another name is used to identify Rowan in the book, and other pronouns I am going to use Rowan’s name and the pronoun he. That’s what seems right to me, but I apologize if I have confused anyone or done it wrong. That just seems right to me! Now! On to the review.
Rowan is ten years old and Rowan is a transgender boy. He doesn’t necessarily have the exact vocabulary to describe it, but he knows that he is different – special on days when he is feeling more charitable towards himself. “I’m not like other boys,” Rowan declares early in the novel and this is the beginning of the story.
His group of girlfriends have abandoned him and have begun the almost silent bullying that so often happens in middle school: laughing, pointing, exclusion. There’s Sophia… Rowan thinks that he and Sophia have a lot in common. Neither of them seems to “fit in” the way they feel they should. Together they have a tender and touching friendship. I was particularly touched by the way they would leave rocks on each other’s porches so that they knew they were each fine. It struck me as something that a young person would do… a way of existing and being noticed.
Because of the inner turmoil, Rowan is dealing with he begins writing letters to an anonymous friend. Using his allowance Rowan buys balloons and ties the letters to them and sets them free. It’s a wonderful coping mechanism and a beautiful vehicle for the character’s thoughts.
“I don’t really care if the person reading this is a boy or a girl, but for some reason picking sides seems to matter more now than ever.” – Rowan
The letters are Rowan’s way of processing what is going on in his own mind and around him. As he explores gender by signing with different names and pondering the way he feels about various students at his school – Rowan reveals that he has another secret. Clearly, he is dealing with sexual abuse at home.
The letters are very realistic, heartfelt, and reflected the turmoil of living in a home in which there is little safety. I found the voice sometimes varied a bit… there were times when I felt that Rowan seemed much younger than 10 years old, but I suppose that could be a manifestation of spending so much time alone. It’s a minor issue.
What is most touching is that Rowan slowly reveals that he is being sexually abused by his father. It's heartbreaking to read the subtle references and I can't even begin to describe how touching this part of the novel was. I found myself with tears in my eyes more than once.
I did feel that the 90s references in the book were a little overwhelming. Sometimes there were so many references that it pulled me out of the emotion of the novel.
This is a very important topic and I suspect that it will reach children right where they are. I don’t know that all young people will connect with Rowan as the letter-writing is something than a lot of young people won’t identify with. I do see how it would be a way of speaking when you feel as though you aren’t being heard. And, if there is any message in this book it’s that Rowan is desperately trying to say something, and no one is listening.
Just when you think you’re all cried out after reading this raw, emotional diary, you continue on to the candid, sentimental author’s note and acknowledgements and the waterworks begin again. THE SHIP WE BUILT by Lexie Bean is an incredibly personal journey of Rowan, a ten year old trans boy, seeking understanding and connection with someone...anyone...who won’t label him as different or weird. Over the course of a school year beginning in 1997—oh yes, I got lost in the nostalgia and found myself grinning often—Rowan releases balloon after balloon filled with his most intimate secrets of confusion, confession, and questions in hopes of getting a response from someone...anyone...who can relate and support. I loved Rowan’s voice and he found a place in my heart and never left. There were hard parts to read regarding his dad’s behavior (potential trigger warning) and my heart broke for Rowan. This novel moved me from the dedication all the way to the important resources provided at the end. Achingly beautiful, THE SHIP WE BUILT is a story of finding your true path, being authentically seen, and learning that you are worthy of love from yourself and others.
The Ship We Built tells the story of a year in the life of Rowan, a 10 year old boy, going through the discovery of who he is, and how he relates to the world around him. It is told through letters and explores themes of transgender identity, growing older, crushes, celebration, and self actualization. The book does touch on abuse, but Lexie Bean deftly writes about it in a way that is not graphic or explicit in any way as to be a book about abuse.
This book is a delight to read and is perfect for cuddling up with a blanket. It transported me to my days as a young cisman learning about how I related to boys and girls around me and what that meant and how I learned about my sexuality. It is innocent, and loving, and treats Rowan with care and empathy. This is fitting because the main character himself is loving and empathetic, even when he discusses conflict with old friends.
A great book to read and discuss with teens or younger - and recommended as a great portrait of what it is like to be in someone else's mind whose experience is not your own. I learned a lot about what its like in another experience, and about myself!
As a former teacher and a parent of adult kids, I highly recommend this book for elementary/middle schoolers. Their parents, teachers, and counselors should share this painstakingly real picture of a questioning tween. It brought me back to 4th-5th-6th grade days when kids teased one another, and how much life for kids and parents has changed. It shows me how to have empathy for individuals of any age who are questioning. Their journey is precious and challenging and should not be disregarded. Thanks so much, Lexie Bean!
I loved The Ship We Built. I was drawn into Rowan's world and could see everything vividly through his eyes. Seeing Rowan's narrative was powerful for me, as I struggled with some similar things as a kid. I cried a lot, as I could deeply feel and resonate with Rowan's pain. Lexie is an amazing writer, and I'm so glad they shared this narrative with the world.
A beautiful snapshot of a child's experience wrestling with identity. Though their focus is on gender, we can all relate to the tug of creating our sense of self. A wonderful story for tweens to adult. A top 10 book on my shelf...and I have read many books in my 51 years.
An incredibly moving story about a young person in the process of discovering their identity amid the challenges of growing up. Through his letters, Rowan navigates with deep sensitivity his experiences of trauma, his hopes and connections with others, and what it means to be a trans boy in a heteronormative world. Highly recommended.