Lauren McLaughlin’s debut ambitiously approaches the concept of gender with a main character who cycles between female and male. It sounded somewhat weird but still cool to me, so I decided to give it a shot. In a double dose of unfairness, immediately after Jill becomes female again she gets to deal with her period, cramps and all. Jack only replaces PMS.
Unfortunately for McLaughlin, the issue I found more interesting in the book is not addressed at all. Cycler involves child abuse. The parents lock Jack in, becoming more and more oppressive. Instead of helping Jill come to terms with her unique biology, they teach her to hypnotize herself and forget everything she does as a boy. Without their actions Jack might not have even developed a separately personality; he could still be Jill in a male body.
That’s not to say McLaughlin shies away from interesting issues. Jill’s crush, Tommy, comes out as a bisexual to her, which does nothing to help her resolve her confusion regarding her gender identity. Jack falls for Jill’s best friend Ramie and his emotions sometimes bleed over. Of course, I wanted even more from these that I got in Cycler.
Jill and Jack’s pursuit of separate lives leads up to a big mess at prom, as must happen in any book set in the senior year of high school. (Really, nothing that exciting happened at my junior or senior prom, unless you consider people dancing to rap pulse-pounding action.) Then the book ends shortly after. The note at the back says a sequel is in progress but I still want falling action. What if Ramie or Tommy is attracted to both Jack and Jill? Do Jack and Jill have any idea how they live after the events leading up to and during prom? The end didn’t feel resolved to me. It felt like things were about to be resolved and then BOOM. No more pages.
Overall Cycler didn’t quite live up to my excitement. It was funny and I liked the characters, but I kept feeling like it had potential for more. I really hope there will be a sequel because I desperately want to see the consequences of the climax. Despite there not being a cliffhanger I feel like I was left hanging.
I feel I should also mention that while Jack and Ramie’s relationship is a little creepy (though there’s a revelation at the end that changed things a lot for me except I didn’t get to see how it affected the characters), Jill and Tommy’s is really cute. Jill uses an old-fashioned self-help book from her mom to try to get his attention. Not the best idea. Even with her cycle, Jill’s still a typical YA girl.
AS FAR AS anyone at her high school knows, Jill McTeague is an average smart girl trying to get her dream date to ask her to the prom.
What no one knows, except for Jill’s mom and dad, is that for the four days Jill is out of school each month, she is not Jill at all. She is Jack, a genuine boy—complete with all the parts. Jack lives his four days per month in the solitude of Jill’s room. But his personality has been building since the cycling began. He is less and less content with his confinement and his cycles are becoming more frequent. Now Jill’s question about the prom isn’t who she’ll go with, but who she’ll be when the big night arrives.
Read an excerpt here