The Passing Playbook by Isaac Fitzsimons

Photo Credit: Amazon

Bibliographic Information:

Title: The Passing Playbook

Author: Isaac Fitzsimons

ISBN: 9781984815422

Publisher: Penguin

Publishing Date: 2021

Genre/Format of the Item: Book

Realistic Fiction




A 2022 Lambda Literary Award Finalist

A 2022 Rainbow Book List Top Ten Title for Young Adults

A Kirkus Best Young Adult Book of the Year 2021

An Amazon Best Young Adult Book of 2021

A Summer/Fall Indies Introduce Title

A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection

(Penguin Platform, 2021)

Reading Level/Interest:

Grade 9-12 (Novelist)

Plot Summary: Spencer Harris has transferred to one of the most open-minded high schools in Ohio trying to forget his past and move onto his future. He is a gay boy who hasn’t told his new classmates that he is also trans. He joins the high school boys’ soccer team and finds his one true solace–his love of the game. Suddenly he is part of the popular crowd and leading his team to the championship tournament, only to find that his birth certificate still reads “Female” and he isn’t allowed to play. He must decide how important it is to fight for his right to play when it means opening himself up to all of his classmates. Spencer also embarks on another new chapter in his life–his first boyfriend, who happens to be from a White, Christian-extremist family. This complicates their relationship and requires both boys to reevaluate their own stereotypes. This sweet love story will leave you routing for Spencer and all that he believes in!

Author Background: Isaac Fitzsimons went to the College of Wooster in Ohio and majored in psychogy. He then went on to complete his M.Ed in Educational Psychology at the University of Washington. There he was part of a grant from the NIH that focused on training teachers to use neuroscience principles in their classrooms (America for the Arts, n.d.). He currently lives outside of Washington, D.C. The Passing Playbook is his first novel, although he has had some experience with performance sketch comedy (Fitzsimons, n.d.).

Photo Credit: Vincent Ralph,

Critical Evaluations: I really liked this book. I thought that it gave an honest portrayal of what life might be like for a gay trans teen. I thought that it was well written and engaging. Spencer is a well-developed character and very relatable to many teens. He is shy and insecure and trying to fit into a new life, as many teens feel when starting high school. The book follows him as he dares to defy his parents and join the soccer team and then the repercussions that result from that. Fitzsimons offers a somewhat complicated but loving teen/parent dynamic that many teens might be able to relate with. Fitzsimons’s treatment of Spencer’s first love relationship is done with sensitivity and a playful approach. This is important for teens to see in a book, especially if they find themselves in a similar situation.

There are many themes that make their way into this book. Spencer’s little brother is autistic and Spencer’s family must learn how to accommodate his needs. This allows the author to examine privilege and accessibility on many different levels. Fitzsimons was able to depict a family with multiple life stressors and how they struggle and succeed in everyday life. In the novel, Spencer falls for Justice, who seems to have it all until Spencer meets his extremely homophobic religious family. This juxtaposition of a very nurturing family and a very restrictive family makes this a very complex novel. Fitzsimons is able to show the complicated relationships of both boys and how they are able to overcome their personal challenges and find each other.

Creative Use for a Library Program: This book could be part of a Queer YA Romance Book Month. The library could have teens sign up to read queer YA romances during the month of February and then host a reading party on February 28th to celebrate a month of reading. The library could display queer YA romance novels in the teen area. For every queer YA romance that a teen reads in February, they can insert their name in a drawing. The drawing will happen at the party on February 28th. The winner will get a small prize (ask local book store or card/game store for a donated gift card). The teens can get together at the party and discuss the books that they have read or just hang out and have fun! There will be book displays up through the party. One of the activities will be to fill out a survey on favorite queer YA romance and why. This will help the librarians find out what the teens enjoy reading about. They can sketch pictures of their favorite books which will be hung up in the teen area.

In the book, Spencer starts off pretty defensive as he slowly builds up the armor he’ll need to be out as trans in a world that isn’t always kind. Ultimately, though, I want readers to feel like a world can exist where you don’t need armor or weapons to live as yourself.” –Isaac Fitzsimons

(Ralph, n.d., para. 7)

Speedround/Book Trailer: Spencer Harris is an excellent student and a star soccer player but he has a secret that he worries could get him kicked off the team and force him to leave another school. He will have to decide if he wants to fight for his right to play and out himself as a trans boy on the high school soccer team. Along the way, he finds love in the most surprising places and learns the power of his own inner strength. Read The Passing Playbook to find out more!

Potential Challenge Issues/Defense Preparations: This book may face challenges because the main character is both gay and transgender. Parents may feel that their teenagers are not prepared to read this or perhaps they do not agree with the lifestyle or feelings of the characters. I would defend this book by stating that the library does not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. I would also state that it is important for the library to have books that all teens can relate to, including gay and trans youth. If a parent objects to this book, they can choose to tell their child not to read it.

Reason for Inclusion: I included this novel because I really like the author’s writing style and I thought that it was important to include books with transgender characters. This book was especially important because the main character was trans and the book described the issues that the character faced because of being gay and trans. This book portrayed the character in a very positive way but also highlighted the various obstacles and prejudices that a trans person may face. Positive representation of LGBTQIA+ characters, especially trans teens of color, are vital in any teen collection.It was also a sweet love story that I think teens can relate with and enjoy reading about.


America for the Arts. (n.d.). My Profile: Isaac Fitzsimons.

Fitzsimons, I. (n.d.). About.

Penguin Platform. (2021, November 30). Writing queer YA romance with Isaac Fitzsimons [Video]. YouTube.

Ralph, V. (n.d.). Isaac Fitzsimons discusses The Passing Playbook.


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