If you could look at one life in two different ways, what would you see?
Louis and Louise are separated by a single moment in time, a strike of chance that decided their future. The day they were born is when their story began.
In one, Louis David Alder is born a male.
In the other, Louise Dawn Alder is born a female.
Louis and Louise are the same in many ways – they have the same best friends, the same parents, the same dream of being a writer and leaving their hometown in Maine as soon as they can. But because of their gender, everything looks different. Certain things will happen in their lives to shape them, hurt them, build them back up again. But what will bring them back home?
Title: Louis & Louise
Author: Julie Cohen
[DISCLAIMER] I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My opinions are my own and have not been influenced by this.
So this was the contemporary adult book I’ve been waiting to read!
I don’t often like too many sex scenes in my books, or a lot of gritty plots that I feel get crammed into any contemporary book marketed to anyone older than YA. I like reading about real life dramas and loves and conversations, and this book is exactly that.
It doesn’t shy away from some heavy topics, but it does them in a way that I thought was quite sensitive and still managed to give all characters such a sense of personality that you care for all of them.
The main thing I loved, and what really made me give this book my five star rating, was how it handled the issue of gender and how this affects your life. From the huge ways to the tiniest of things, it’s managed really really well. Julie Cohen, you have impressed me.
The writing style in a book meant to show the same life in male and female perspectives was something I wasn’t sure about before I started. How was it going to be handled? Would I get bored of reading effectively the same scene again with only the smallest of changes?
It turns out, no. The flips between Louis and Louise are really gentle, with some overlap in scenes but only when the differences really need to be highlighted. The joint chapters with both Louis and Louise where the same scene or period of time is shown through both lenses at once was especially good.
It’s so cool to see even tiny things be different in the worlds due only to the fact that this one person was a boy or a girl. Also how people treat them differently right from the beginning: from how the grandparents get different toys and they’re dressed in pink and blue to which parent they’re closer to when they’re older, and even their careers.
Even the small bits like how Louise’s mother encourages her to change from glasses to contacts because ‘her eyes are so pretty’ when Louis is not and happily wears glasses till college. It shows how even the smallest of comments can add up to change someone’s self confidence or change their view on the world and how they should be in it.
They both do well in school, but Louise’s report card mentions that she ‘chatters’ all the time and Louis is just ‘doing well in spite of distractions’. Girls are always seen as more talkative than they actually are, where some studies have shown that if the girls talk around 30% of the time in a mixed class, the boys in the class will perceive them as talking for over 50% of the time. When or where this stems from I’m not sure, but it’s interesting to see it mentioned in this book. Even throwaway comments matter in the big scheme of things.
For example, how often do you remember a relatively small comment that impacted you a lot growing up?
I personally remember quite a few that I’m sure the speakers wouldn’t even consider worth remembering minutes after they said them. But to me, they changed me in enough of a way that it stuck around.
I didn’t expect this book to have LGBT+ rep in it and I am very much not disappointed. It’s handled gently and made to be almost background information that just is. I appreciate that, since coming out stories are lovely, but eventually having media just have LGBT+ people exist and have it not be a big controversy or be questioned is the end goal. That’s what real life is striving for too: tolerance was the first step, now it’s acceptance. I also really appreciate how they show this affecting Louis differently to Louise, as public perception of sexuality still varies a bit depending on gender (though it shouldn’t).
Julie covers so much in her writing, every little thing that is the tiniest bit different if you’re a boy or a girl is brought to light, but in subtle ways. This isn’t a book that yells at you, it’s a book that slowly gets under your skin and makes you realise what privileges and disadvantages you have by being the gender that you are, but you hardly realise it’s happening. I’d love to see more of her writing, and maybe something covering the topic of non-binary gender: because male and female aren’t the only two options, and I think I’d trust Julie to take that on in a meaningful and delicate way.
Her writing is so natural and unique, reading this book was one of the easiest things ever.