Contemporary Literature · Young Adult

Sasha Masha

I hadn’t heard of this book at all until it was one of the ALC options from Libro.fm a month or so ago. And just this week I was looking for something nice and short to listen to and this fit what I was looking for exactly right. 

Sasha Masha by Agnes Borinsky

“‘I think we’ve each got a mystery inside of us […] and as people, our job is to respect that mystery. To give it room to breathe. To feed it. To take it out for lunch sometimes. Whatever. We’re all a part of a whole big picture. And if we’re not doing our best to unfold the strange somethings inside of us, we’re not doing right by everybody else. If we’re not unfolding our hearts, we’re holding them back. We’re flinching. And that’s how we hurt people. That’s how we make ourselves and the whole world smaller.’”

Alex is the sort of boy that everyone, especially adults, just likes: he’s pretty smart and charming when he needs to be, but mostly just flies right under the radar. When Alex starts dating Tracy, his very first girlfriend, things about himself that he always sort of pushed aside or compartmentalized separately from each other start to feel more and more…uncomfortable. And when he meets a new friend, Andre, who asks him questions about himself, the part of him that wears sunset orange dresses and green painted fingernails. And Alex starts to think that, perhaps, he isn’t Alex at all. Perhaps he’s actually Sasha Masha. 

Well, this was a really lovely quick read. A very easy read, a simple (in the straightforward sense, not the unintelligent sense) story, but by no means is the topic a simple one. Borinsky’s portrayal and description of the inklings of “off-ness” that Alex feels, the moments when he fully inhabits Sasha Masha and that clicking into place he experiences…it’s just such a wonderful and clear demonstration of the conflicting realities of what you unconsciously know about yourself and the socialization that consciously makes it so difficult to recognize and embrace that internal truth. And I really love the way she writes the queer youth group, and Sasha Masha making new friends there, friends that understand that unsurity and both encourage and give space for Sasha Masha to start to figure it out. That support, and the guidance to help him find others who have experienced similar things, the generations that have come before and laid the groundwork for Sasha Masha, the people he had never heard of or knew existed, is so heartwarming and SO important for context.

Although, as I said, the novel itself is simple, regarding the overall development of place and character and plot and dialogue, I still had a very strong sense for Sasha Masha as a person – he felt real and contextualized and I really felt his coming-of-age/coming-of-self. Borinsky’s communication of Sasha Masha’s feeling “not real” and “in between,” in combination with all the normal adolescent angst, just came across as really genuine. This was also a really unique book in that there really was no conclusion, not to Sasha Masha’s identity nor to any of his relationships (like, things are very purposefully left very unresolved with most of the main characters, including his parents and Andre). It would be tempting to be annoyed by that or call Borinsky’s “ending” lazy. But also…isn’t that what life is like? Especially for queer poeple? The constant need to come out and explain yourself. Which is not only challenging in general, but specifically, as we see for Sasha Masha here, when he isn’t completely sure how to explain or put it into words for himself…so how can he be expected to wrap it all up with a neat bow for other people? He shouldn’t be. And I actually love that Boprinsky gives him that grace and leeway.

This slim volume was an insightful, sweet YA exploration of gender and gender identity. And here at the wrap-up of this review, I’d like to again recognize the way that Borinsky tackles finding oneself outside of the expectations/norms/noise of the world around you. Such affective and effective writing. Overall, this short book is definitely worth the time you’ll spend with it. 

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