Published by Farrar Straus & Giroux on November 8, 2016
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Source: print ARC from the publisher
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.
Diversity Rating: 2 – It’s a Start!
QUILTBAG: 4 (Jess is a trans girl, Chuck is pansexual)
Intersectionality: -3 (the book is heinously fatphobic in how it describes Chuck and it takes the entire book for Jess to learn better)
Though it was troubling at times and my feelings might change upon rereading it, I enjoyed Clark’s debut novel Freakboy. Where Freakboy was serious and at times scary due to violence against two of its narrators, Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity is more lighthearted and features no violence against Jess whatsoever, though two instances of violence against other QUILTBAG individuals are mentioned. Its trans rep shines, but the rest of the book leaves something to be desired.
Clark states in the author’s note that her daughter is trans and she, along with other trans individuals, inspired the characters in both Freakboy and this book. Jess’s descriptions of what going through a second puberty is like, her emotions pre- and post-transition, and even what she worries about now as she’s mid-transition ring true. Reviews I’ve seen from trans people have been very positive in this regard, which indicates it really is true to life.
Still, I’d rec the book only conditionally considering the problems it has. For one, the novel is heinously fatphobic, giving Jess’s friend Chuck the nickname “Chunk” because he’s just that fat and it stuck after a space camp counselor called him “Super Chunk” when Jess and Chuck were in seventh grade. Jess often notes people based on the size of their bodies, such as when she’s at her father’s wedding and comments on how large her stepmom is in her wedding dress.
Smacking some sense into Jess is a major part of the novel and her fatphobia is something she gets called out on at the end. But that’s the problem: at the end. Readers have to endure a great deal of Chuck being called Chunk before Jess finally gets the reality check that hey, doing that is pretty awful. A better idea: her being confronted about it at the beginning of the novel and then struggling throughout the book to change her ways.
Additionally, an unintended reward of the road trip turns out to be Jess and Chuck fixing their friendship as well as coming to realize their feelings for one another. Had Jess asked Chuck to go with her explicitly to improve their struggling friendship, her character arc would have been stronger for it! She’s understandably self-obsessed and flashbacks make it clear she’s been struggling to hold onto her only friend for a while. Sometimes, a situation forces us to become better people. Other times, we seek out the opportunity to become better people on our own. Jess strikes me as someone who would do the latter.
Later on, Chuck reveals to another character that he’s pansexual, providing some of the only pan rep I’ve seen in YA, but even that’s problematic in its execution considering his romantic feelings for Jess. He’s the only one to show interest in Jess throughout their road trip and flashbacks don’t indicate she had much of a romantic history, if any. Him being pan and the only one into her implies there might be a relationship between those two facts when there absolutely is not. The solution here is simple: another guy or two flirting with Jess along the way.
Oh, and my feelings on Jess and Chuck confessing their feelings for one another? NO NO NO NO NO. THEY HAVE A LONG WAY TO GO STILL AS FRIENDS AND DEFINITELY AREN’T READY TO BE TOGETHER AS BOYFRIEND AND GIRLFRIEND. But maybe I feel that way because of my own biases.
So no, I was by and large not a fan of Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity. It has its merits in its representation of Jess’s life as a trans girl and it’s great to have a trans YA novel in which the character doesn’t have any sexual or physical violence inflicted on them for who they are. Regardless, other issues keep me from wholeheartedly reccing the book.