Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity
By Kristin Elizabeth Clark
Goodreads rating: 3.44/5.00
The last time Jess saw her father, she was a boy named Jeremy. Now she’s a high school graduate, soon to be on her way to art school. But first, Jess has some unfinished business with her dad. So she’s driving halfway across the country to his wedding. He happens to be marrying her mom’s ex-best friend. It’s not like Jess wasn’t invited; she was. She just told them she wasn’t coming. Surprise!
Luckily, Jess isn’t making this trip alone. Her best friend, Christophe—nicknamed Chunk—is joining her. Chunk has always been there for Jess, and he’s been especially supportive of her transition, which has recently been jump-started with hormone therapy.
Along the way from California to Chicago, Jess and Chunk will visit roadside attractions, make a new friend or two, and learn a few things about themselves—and each other—that call their true feelings about their relationship into question.
Casting call for my imaginary movie!
Photo 1 of Eve Lindley as Jess: Jess has gender dysphoria. Actress Eve Lindley would make a phenomenal Jess, even though she’s 23. It sucks that I feel like I’ve already run out of trans actresses to play these young characters.
HOLLYWOOD NEEDS MORE REPRESENTATION!
Middle Photo of Roderick Meeks as Chunk: Chuck is chubby. Chuck is pansexual (yay!). Chuck is his name, and Chunk is the nickname he was given as a result of his size (I fucking hated this). I think that the actor from Glee, Roderick Meeks, would be perfect for this role in a film.
First of all, AND MAJOR SPOILER ALERTS HERE, no matter how self-absorbed Chuck thinks Jess is, she's come out to him twice - first as gay, and then as trans - and he's never once told her that he's pan? Whaaat? They’re supposedly best friends for yearsss now. How do they never have a conversation about the fact that he's pan, when he realized it, who he's been attracted to in the past (even though this literally comes up in a conversation/question during a car ride game)? Just an odd story line, but the real reason it’s so bothersome is because I feel like this is a super strong way to suggest that a trans person isn't really of the gender with which they identify as, and this book falls right into that. I wouldn't be saying this if it weren't such token pansexual representation, but it is, and that makes me sad. There's this whole subplot about him having an internet girlfriend, Jess finding out Chuck is pansexual, the hints that Chuck likes-likes Jess… and it sucks all this great conversation they could be having into a weak conflict.
A character. Does not. Have to be pan. To be attracted. To a trans person.
Anyway, photo 3 of Jane Levy as Annabelle: Jane Levy from Suburgatory would make a badass Annabelle from the subplot.
My messy, eclectic review (with lots of spoilers!)
Jess, Chunk, and the Road to Infinity is about Jess, an eighteen year old who has finally begun her transition from being Jeremy to becoming her true, authentic self by taking hormones that her father denied her. Immediately after graduation, Jess and her best friend, Chunk, embark on a road trip from San Jose, CA, to Chicago to make her debut true self known to the world by a surprise appearance at her transphobic dad’s wedding to her mom’s former best friend. The road trip uncovers many worries, tensions, and truths following Jess’s concerns for her safety and anxiety about passing. With the urging of her long-time best friend, Chuck, and the support of her mom (who’s been divorced from dad since Jess was very young), Jess decides to travel to Chicago to attend the wedding of her father and to confront him, appearing as the girl she is transforming into that he refused to believe in.
I really liked that this showed another side to the first year of transition. Jess concentrates significantly on her Adam’s apple and light facial hair. Her hormones are mentioned, she’s concerned with finding safe spaces to stay, and her consciousness is always on passing – what clothes can she wear, around who, etc. It’s important to read this because it really takes you into that experience as a reader (does that make sense?). It doesn't take for granted the individual challenges a trans girl has even if she also has significant good in her life. I also liked that this was actually not an entirely trans-centric story. It's very rare that we get a trans protagonist whose entire story is not about coming out, and while that's certainly a big element – especially transitioning in this story – it's really Jess's parents' divorce and her father's remarriage that's the driving element of the main plot. While Jess’s mom is supportive of her transition, her dad withdrew from Jess’s life and struggles much more openly with her new self. Showing his reaction and also her feelings about his words added a much greater understanding and level of empathy to the story, because we saw not only her dad’s genuine struggle to understand why this was happening but the way his struggle made Jess feel excluded and unloved.
Jess is not a saint. In fact, she's got some serious personality flaws, and her best friend calls her out on all of it. None of her bad behavior goes unchecked by him. I loved these personality flaws because often times queer characters don't seem to get to be flawed, and I appreciated that about her a lot. She is too caught up in her own mind and her own drama to see that her best friend is hurt every time she calls him “Chunk” and uses anything fatphobic as her ultimate insult, even though Chuck has been there through all of Jess’s changes. Every single time the guy is called Chunk throughout, I winced. He clearly hates the taunting and judgemental nickname. It should be obvious to any functioning human being that Chuck would hate that nickname, and yet it is somehow not obvious to Jess until he has to yell it at her, like, a third of the way into the book.
Their friendship seems to be on the rocks. He’s spending the trip texting another girl he met on the internet while growing increasingly annoyed at Jess’s utter egotism. For someone so aware of names, image, and identity, Jess is extremely oblivious, especially when it comes to weight. It takes seeing (and overhearing) Chuck interact with new people for Jess to understand her feelings and begin to see beyond herself. Throughout the trip, Chuck drops hints about Jess’s self-involvement that Jess deflects, justifies, and sometimes turns against Chuck. Their road trip is full of tropes and clichés, including the inevitable minor car breakdown and the visits to oddball America roadside attractions, but it is punctuated more thoughtfully by Jess’ need for trans-friendly hotels and restaurants and her worries about passing. However, Jess never really grasps the point (or the story feels rushed to do so) that other people need support as well, so her happy ending feels contrived and undeserved by her character, with a plot twist that comes as a big surprise.
I loved the running theme of juxtaposition of being fat and body dysphoria. At one point, Jess thinks, "I bet I hate my body more than you do," to Chuck. The author contrasted Jess’s insecurities about her body during her transition and Chunk’s insecurities about his weight. I felt like Jess’s experience was really easy to understand and empathize with, but she’s also such a flawed character, which again I really enjoyed. It felt true and real.
And the thing is, Jess is attracted to Chuck... but also fat shames everyone. She freaks out when Chuck accidentally deadnames her but proceeds to keep failing to abide by his wish not to be referred to as "Chunk." That all falls in line with exactly why Chuck calls her out in the first place; because she's entirely about herself and doesn't give a damn about him (even though she loves him). Her self-focused thoughts and obsession over her feelings about her transition leave her blind to the feelings of others, especially her best friend.
SORRY FOR ALL THE SPOILERS, HOW DO REAL REVIEWERS DO THIS?
Overall, I liked that this story involved a trans character yet the book wasn’t focused on the character realizing she was trans. Jess is already out to the important people in her life and she’s graduated from high school, in the process of transitioning, and plans to start college as a girl. This story focuses more on Jess coming to terms with her parents’ divorce, her father’s remarriage to her mom’s best friend, and the fact that she *might* be in love with her best friend. SPOILER, lol.
My rating: 4.00/5.00
About the Author
Kristin Elizabeth Clark always knew she wanted to be a writer. She began dabbling in haiku in the third grade – this "experimentation" turned out to be a gateway to the harder stuff: book-length verse. She lives and writes in Northern California where she has worked as a child advocate within the juvenile justice system, and as a children's theatre producer. She is a proud volunteer at Project Outlet in Mountain View, CA. Kristin Elizabeth Clark is also the author of Freakboy, which received three starred reviews, was a YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults title, a Project Reading Rainbow List Top Ten title, and a Bank Street Best Book of the Year.
Kara is a bisexual feminist and scientist who believes in Bigfoot, resides in the Twin Ports with her partner and 5 pets, and who wishes she were a librarian or bookstore owner. Kara likes hanging out with the people in her life who inspire her and provoke her to go after what she wants, while supporting, loving, and living life to the fullest. She hopes you'll join in the discussion at the Prism Queer Book Club meetings, times/dates TBA.