I read Cycler because I enjoy novels that tackle gender issues, but I found it disappointing. But when Sybs asked me to review (Re)cycler, my basic reaction was, “Why not?” I’m glad I did that, because this is one sequel that is far better than its predecessor. I recommend skipping Cycler and going straight to (Re)cycler. It might be a little confusing, but Lauren McLaughlin does a fine job of summarizing what came before.
First improvement? Jack gets something to do. He’s no longer stuck in a room with nothing to do but read porn. Instead, he’s trying to find friends despite the fact he’s never been socialized. He did get secondhand experience from Jill, and quickly finds himself reacting to situations like a girl rather than a teenage guy. While struggling with his masculinity, his relationship with Ramie becomes more strained as she follows her own interests and dreams. (And I think Ramie may have some interest in Jill that causes frustration.)
As for Jill, she’s been separated from her boyfriend and finds herself in control of her body for shorter and shorter periods of time. It’s a nice reflection of the way she’s trying to take control of her body by losing her virginity. It’s a prickly topic that I don’t want to get into in a book review, but McLaughlin does a very good job of showing how girls are supposed to be good and supposed to put out and how it becomes more complicated when you’re taught your first time should be special but also that you shouldn’t make a big deal of it because then you’re letting the patriarchy win.
And here’s another advantage of both Jack and Jill being out: wacky hijinks. (I’m surprised that no one thinks Jack/Jill is a crossdresser.) The change between the two has become a lot more fluid, which leads to a lot of awkward situations, including Jack getting stuck naked in an alley. It’s often ridiculous, but it falls on the side of funny rather than stupid.
(Re)cycler is a great examination of what it means to be in your late teens and deciding who you are. Jack wants to be a man’s man, but he’s doesn’t really know what that means and is uncomfortable with the fact he’s subconsciously gendered female. Jill wants to be feminine, with a proper romance and everything, but worries that she can never be a real girl since she does share a body with a guy. I like that both of them are somewhat scared of Jack’s relationship with Jill’s boyfriend, Tommy. (I do miss Tommy being on the scene, though there are several interesting new characters on the scene.)
I hope there’s a third book in the series. I feel there are enough ends left open to justify it, even if (Re)cycler‘s conclusion is much more solid than Cycler‘s. McLaughlin has matured her characters into people I’d like to spend more time with, in addition to improving her presentation of ideas.
How do you grow up, if who you are keeps changing?
Jill McTeague is not your average high school graduate, she’s a scientific anomaly. Every month for four days she turns into Jack, a guy—complete with all the parts. Now everyone in her hometown knows that something very weird is up with her. So what’s a girl (and a guy) to do? Get the heck out of town, that’s what! With her kooky best friend, Ramie, Jill sets out for New York City. There both she and Jack will have to figure out everything from the usual (relationships) to the not so usual (career options for a “cycler,” anyone?).
As in Cycler, the first book featuring Jack and Jill, author Lauren McLaughlin deftly weaves the downright mundane with the outright bizarre in a story that, while defying classification, is peopled with characters that readers can fully relate to.
Read an excerpt here.