The sweet and subversive debut novel by award-winning memoirist and screenwriter Ariel Schrag
NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE DIRECTED BY RHYS ERNST AND STARRING NICHOLAS ALEXANDER, BOBBI SALVÖR MENUEZ, LEO SHENG, AND MARGARET QUALLEY
“An insightful, funny, and unexpected love story.”—Aimee Mann
When Adam Freedman — a straight, cis teen from Piedmont, California — goes to stay with his older sister Casey in Brooklyn, he fantasizes about a summer of freedom, new friends, and falling in love. He’s in for a surprise.
It’s 2006 and Casey has thrown herself into NYC’s lesbian and trans activist scene—marriage equality marches, L Word-watching parties, BDSM sex clubs, and trans rights protests. Adam tags along, having fun in places he’d never have expected, but he’s surrounded by lesbians, and it seems like the last thing he’ll find is a girlfriend. That is, until he meets Gillian. Adam is soon hopelessly, desperately in love…only there’s just one small problem. Gillian thinks he’s a trans man.
Ariel Schrag’s scathingly funny and poignant debut novel puts a fresh spin on questions of love, attraction, self-definition, and what it means to be part of a community.
"[An] audacious coming-of-age novel.”—Miami Herald
"Hilarious...Schrag's riotous, poignant debut novel will leave you reeling."—SF Weekly
Adam stared up at the tree leading to Kelsey Winslow’s bedroom window. He was holding a flower he’d picked on the way over—a golden poppy, the official California state flower, a conversation piece:
“Did you know it’s actually illegal to pick these?”
“Yeah, weird, right?”
But now, about to climb the tree, he didn’t know what to do with it. If he just held it in his hand while he climbed up, it would definitely get smashed; same thing with putting it in his back pocket. He racked his brain and finally decided he was just going to have to hold it in his teeth while he climbed: 100 percent Gay. But, whatever, he’d just make sure to get it back in his hand before Kelsey saw his head poking out over the window.
The whole climbing-into-the-girl’s-window-through-a-tree-in-her-backyard thing was itself pretty ridiculous, but Adam didn’t have much choice. He hoisted himself up. Kelsey’s parents were cool—almost too cool—and they wouldn’t have given a shit if some boy dropped by and asked if Kelsey was home. Kelsey was always saying things like: “My parents don’t care about anything. They totally know I steal their alcohol. When Mom went on her ‘I’m not drinking anymore’ thing, and all the beer in the house disappeared, I was like, ‘Just ’cause Mom doesn’t wanna drink doesn’t mean the rest of us shouldn’t be able to!’ ” Their lack of caring was why Kelsey insisted everyone climb up the tree and through her window. It made things seem more exciting.
Adam transferred the flower from mouth to fist and rapped on the glass. He could see Kelsey sitting on her bed with her laptop. She came over and opened the window. She looked cross.
“I told you to come over at around six. You’re early.”
Adam scrambled into the room and peeked at his watch. It was 5:44. He had taken the bus from his house to Kelsey’s and overestimated the time; he had actually arrived an entire hour early but walked around the block thirteen times until it was 5:40, and for some reason he had calculated that it would take him twenty minutes to climb the tree.
Adam shrugged. Kelsey mock-shrugged back. She went over to her bed and picked up where she had left off with her laptop. Adam sat down next to her. She was in socks with her feet curled up underneath her. Adam’s sneakers looked huge and bulbous and were caked in mud, tree sap, and probably dog shit. He slouched against the wall so his shoes dangled off the edge of the bed, not touching any of the blankets. He considered for a moment kicking them off, all casual, like, Whatever, I’m just gonna kick these shoes off. But even the thought made him cringe. She’d think he was just trying to make out with her, which of course he was. Adam looked down and realized he was still holding the now-mashed poppy in his fist. He discreetly smushed it into his back pocket.
Kelsey was IM’ing with what appeared to be five different people on her computer screen and texting with someone on her phone. She was carrying on six conversations, none of which were with Adam. He gazed around the room, trying to pretend he didn’t care or notice that she was ignoring him. His eyes shifted: desk cluttered with school stuff and Buffy DVDs; corkboard with photos of friends at school, everyone hanging off of one another; drawings that looked like they were done by a five-year-old (kid she babysat for?). What the fuck was he doing here? It was almost the end of his junior year of high school, and he’d still only made out with one girl in one piece-of-shit game of spin the bottle back in eighth grade. He probably shouldn’t even count spin the bottle, but what was he going to do, say he’d never made out with anyone? He’d already exaggerated the kiss in his mind to include tongue and a little groping, when the reality was it had been one quick peck on the lips that gave him an instant hard-on. Kelsey was part of a group he hung around with at school, and everyone had been telling him she liked him. He thought she seemed 100 percent indifferent to him like every other girl he knew, but Brad had insisted, “She wants you, man; she’s totally damp for you,” so he’d asked her if he should stop by after school, and she’d said: “Sure.”
“Adam? Why are you being so weird and quiet?”
Adam looked at Kelsey, who was staring at him.
“You are. You’re, like, just sitting there staring.”
Kelsey shoved her laptop off her stomach and walked over to her stereo. She fiddled with the iPod, and music started playing. She’s setting the mood. Adam’s body tensed. Kelsey started doing a flow-y dance to the music. She rolled her neck back and moved her arms in undulating curves. Her eyes were closed, and she mouthed the words along with the music as she swayed. She stopped and opened her eyes at him.
“Wanna get high?”
“Sure,” said Adam.
There was nothing Adam wanted to do less, but if it meant making out with Kelsey, he was willing to risk it. He’d smoked pot a couple weeks ago with Brad and Colin, and spent the whole night praying for the feeling to go away. They’d smoked out of an empty Bud can that Brad had turned into a pipe by bending it in half and jabbing a little circle of holes in the middle with a ballpoint pen. After only three hits, Adam couldn’t tell the difference between what he was saying or merely thinking, and he was convinced Brad and Colin had masterminded the entire night just to fuck with him. “Adam’s tweaking!” they kept saying, and laughing (secret looks between them) “Adam’s totally tweaking!”
Now Kelsey wanted to get high, and before she’d even taken out the weed, Adam felt like he was completely stoned.
“I got this new bong on Telegraph,” said Kelsey, rummaging through a drawer. She extracted a bra and flung it over her back across the room, just missing Adam, turning his face red as it passed.
“Here it is,” said Kelsey. “Shit goes straight to your brain with this.” The bong was translucent purple with a giant weed leaf painted along the cylinder. Adam had seen ones like it propped up next to the for tobacco use only sign in the display case at Annapurna, the smoke shop on Telegraph Avenue. Kelsey dumped some leftover Diet Coke inside the bong and packed the bowl.
“Guests first,” she said, standing in front of Adam and extending the bong to him. “Or is it ladies first?” She grinned and snapped her arm back, bringing the bong to her chest. The cylinder was stuck between her tits, making them spread out. Her nipples looked hard, and despite his paranoia, Adam could feel himself getting that way too.
“Ladies first,” he said.
Kelsey flopped down on the bed, splashing Diet Coke from the bong on her pink ringer T-shirt. She lit up and inhaled long and deep. Adam scooted in closer to her. Their thighs were touching and his hand was resting just behind her back, right where her jeans went down and her shirt went up,
"The book is sincere, dirty (but not in an excessive way), and downright hilarious. Schrag somehow manages to walk the increasingly thin tightrope of being respectful and yet brutally honest about transgender issues...While this book will surely be on the summer reading list for anybody with a family member or dear friend that fits under the LGBT umbrella, it could and should be enjoyable to anybody who picks it up. After all, its core message is universal. Surviving our teenage years is no small task." --The Daily Beast
"[Ariel Schrag] the lesbian graphic memoirist, a successor to Alison Bechdel, breaks out..." --Boris Kachka,Vulture, "8 Books You Need to Read This June"
"This hilarious, frank look at a young man pretending to be a trans-man in order to get a girl is transgressive and brutally honest—the rare book that pulls no punches for anyone."--Brooklyn Magazine, "25 Best Brooklyn Books of the Decade"
"Colorful and smart, [ADAM] understands that the struggle to discover one’s identity is somehow both ubiquitous and unique. With deep empathy and wit and humanity, Schrag has accomplished the seemingly impossible challenge of making the experience of marginalization and isolation feel universal." --Grantland, "June Book Recommendations: Young Adult for Adults"
"Ariel Schrag is one of the most talented human beings alive...Schrag’s writing is sharp and stylish but also effortlessly graceful; you almost don’t notice how great her sentences are because they flow straight into your brain, situating themselves there like some better, funnier version of your own thoughts." --Emily Gould, The Millions
"Compulsively readable, Adam sometimes seems like a YA novel, only with way more explicit sex. The book is also philosophical, presenting at its core, a question about gender, desire, and subjectivity: is sexual identity defined by who you have sex with, or who you think you’re having sex with….The gimmick at the center of Adam is a good one, and the complicated issues it provokes are profound." -- Bookforum
"While the book is funny, it's also quietly revolutionary—Schrag writes honestly about gender identity and sexuality in a way that's extremely rare, maybe unprecedented." --Gothamist, "Notable New Yorkers Share Their Summer Reading Recs"
"A completely original story, Adam tells a coming-of-age tale that is both modern and timeless, and one that both blurs the boundary between 'young adult' and 'adult' fiction."--Mashable, "24 Must-Read Books for Summer 2014"
"Not only is Adam a wonderful book, it is quite possibly the best entry in the coming-of-age category since Adam Wilson’s Flatscreen...Adam is one glorious buildup to something that you know can’t be a fairytale ending, and Schrag pulls it off in one funny, oddly sweet, and unique novel that nails a plot that just about anybody else would totally butcher." --Flavorwire, "Best Book of the Week"
"Ariel Schrag’s story about a teenager who goes to spend the summer in New York with his sister is unlike any coming-of-age story you’ll read anytime soon. Funny and tender... Anybody familiar with Schrag’s comics won’t be disappointed with her work as a novelist; if you haven’t read her other work, let Adam be your introduction and read everything else you can find of hers from there." -- Flavorwire, "10 Must Read Books for June"
"The story is heartfelt and hilarious, and explores concepts of gender and sexuality that aren’t really explored in other YA books. At least, none that I’ve read in recent memory. Definitely pick this one up. It’ll stick with you. " --BookRiot, "Best Books We Read in May"
"This book is EVERYTHING. Gorgeously observed, sharp-tongued, big-hearted, fearless. I can’t wait for the HBO series (this is not like a thing Nikki Finke has reported, this is just my Dreamland Hollywood Development Slate). Schrag forever and ever." --Kit Steinkellner, BookRiot, "The Best Books of 2014 So Far"
"Gives an authentic glimpse into N.Y.C’s underground queer culture...A compelling page turner with a suspenseful plot...A quick, easy, and captivating read, 'Adam' pulls you in." --Bust Magazine
"As a novel, Adam is novel. As a character, Adam is alive and well-written. In fact, all the characters are at once clearly and queerly delineated, uttering dialogue that is utterly colloquial. As far as prose goes, it is riveting, riotous, and ridiculously astute. Mendacity and veracity exist side by side, not separated by some great divide, the way gender and sexuality too often are…At its core, this is a story of transformations, celebrations, and revelations; of learning to embrace rather than efface the elasticity of gender and sexuality. Ariel Schrag doesn’t give it to you straight: her book is incisive and divisive, ingenuous and ingenious. It puts the “New” in New York City. So take a big bite of Adam’s Apple." --Curve Magazine
"Completely and totally charmed, and also vicariously embarrassed for the titular character." --The Chicago Tribune, "The Biblioracle: Favorite books of 2014...so far"
"[An] audacious coming-of-age novel...Schrag, best known for her series of graphic memoirs about her adolescence, has found compassionate and funny ways to talk about a subject most fiction avoids, and she has produced a truly original (and sexually explicit) coming-of-age novel...Adam is educational in the best sense of the word: Much of its audience will be as dazed and confused as Adam is in this brave new world, but Schrag sends you home with a greater understanding of all the permutations of what it means to be human." –The Miami Herald
"Graphic artist Ariel Schrag takes on the challenge of the traditional novel with the decidely nontraditional Adam, about a boy trying to pass as transgender to win the lesbian of his dreams (really)."--The Miami Herald, "A-Z of Summer Reading"
"Hilarious...Schrag's riotous, poignant debut novel will leave you reeling." --SF Weekly
"Schrag's frisky debut...is one of the most original coming-of-age stories of recent years." - Publishers Weekly
"Schrag’s gifts for characterization and dialogue make the whole enterprise sweetly entertaining...A well-composed story about love and lust in all their myriad variations and about a boy finding his place in a mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world." -- Kirkus
"Ariel Schrag's book is a kind of ‘Adam in Wonderland,’ with its young hero exploring worlds usually kept underground. An insightful, funny, and unexpected love story, told with wit and compassion." —Aimee Mann
"The sexual revolution is finally over, and Ariel Schrag has won. Adam is the most twisted, hilarious, and deeply gratifying reading experience I have had in a long time." —Alison Bechdel, author of Fun Home and Are You My Mother?
"Hysterically funny and deliciously precise…Schrag writes as elegantly about sex parties as she does about the complicated emotions of awkwardness." —Nico Muhly, composer of Two Boys
"Sexually frank and frankly hilarious." —Ned Vizzini, author of It’s Kind of a Funny Story
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