When Kivali–better known as Lizard–was little, her guardian, Sheila, told her that the lizard people dropped her on Earth as a baby to one day meet a great destiny. Lizard doesn’t know if that’s true or not, but she has always felt different from other kids; in the world of Pat Schmatz’s Lizard Radio, Lizard is what’s known as a “bender,” a person whose assigned gender is different from their actual experience of their gender: a trans person, in our world. Even though she uses she/her/hers as her pronouns, Lizard has never felt like a girl, and sometimes that makes her feel like she’s not even human. Her identity is a total mystery to her. Everything gets even more confusing when Sheila drops her off at a place called CropCamp, a government-run summer camp for teenagers, where she’s supposed to learn how to farm and become a good citizen. Sheila hates the government, though, and has always told Lizard to stand up to authority, so why would she send her here?
This book is awesome and magical in a lot of ways, including the weird, wonderful language of the narration, the complexity of the friendships that Lizard makes, the characters themselves, the nuances and secrets of the society they live in, and the fact that the narrator is so often confused; it’s a treasure trove for anyone who loves stories of summer camps and/or dystopian worlds, and it’s intensely relatable for folks of LGBTQ+ identities.
Lizard’s confusion–about who she is, what she wants, who she’s supposed to be, etc.–is one of my favorite things about Lizard Radio. For many LGBTQ+ people in our world, coming out is a scary and potentially dangerous process in which the risks are so great that it’s safer to pretend to be something we’re not, or to try to actually become that thing; we worry all the time that the people around us might catch on to our real selves. We can’t afford to be confused or even look like we’re confused, because that could lead to us getting bullied, harassed, thrown out of our homes, physically attacked, arrested, or killed. The fact that Lizard is allowed to be confused about herself throughout the book is invaluable for young LGBTQ+ readers who feel the same way about themselves, and it’s one of many things that make Lizard a compelling character and narrator.
My other favorite part of this book is how the characters are the main focus. It’s not trying to be A Book About LGBTQ+ Issues–it’s a book about kids. They all feel real; nobody is all good or all bad, and it’s hard to fully love or hate anyone. Lots of strange and interesting things happen, and there are new terms to learn and ideas to grapple with, but at the end of the day, Lizard Radio shows its heart in its characters, and that’s what makes it so good and so fun to read.
Schmatz, Pat. Lizard Radio. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2015. Print.