Jill McTeague is a run-of-the-mill American teen – she’s neither an outcast nor most popular, enjoys school for the most part, and really wants her secret crush to ask her to prom. But four days a month Jill isn’t quite so run-of-the-mill – though her teachers and friends think she has a medical problem that requires monthly transfusions, ever since she was fourteen Jill has spent four days a month as a boy, complete with genitals and attitude.
After seeking medical advice, to no avail, Jill’s mother decided to lock Jack away from the world, protecting Jill from the publicity and scrutiny the alternative would cause. But Jack’s becoming less happy about a life that consists of one small house and not so much as an internet connection to let him interact with the world, and he’s emerging more often.
I was captivated by this premise when I first came across the book a couple of years ago, and when I found my library had no plans to purchase it bought a copy myself. Jack is by far the most dynamic character, though throughout the novel Jill becomes more aware of the confines her very controlled mother has placed on her, and on the passive role her father plays in their life.
The parent relationship is interesting, and somewhat under-explored, though this is understandable given the narration of the text by Jill and Jack. I was also a little disappointed that Cycler ends at the most narratively interesting point. There’s some interesting, but somewhat masked, aspects of gender and sexual identity brought up in the text, and the romantic hero identifies as bisexual which is unusual in the genre and worthy of note, particularly the response of his classmates. All in all, though, I was a little disappointed in Cycler, which I think could have spent a little less time on the more vapid aspects of Jill’s personality (like the intricately planned and doomed Operation Swoon, designed to entice her target into inviting Jill to prom) and more time on these interesting aspects. – Alex