Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Short Review: Ken Corbett transplants readers into the Courtroom 41, to track Brandon McInerney, a teenager on trial for murdering his trans classmate. It’s a fascinating, yet emotionally taxing, examination of how identity informs and shapes courtroom politics.
In 2008, 14-year-old Brandon McInerney shot his classmate twice in the head at close range while in the computer lab. The classmate, Lawrence “Larry” King, was a flamboyant brown skinned student who had recently made the decision to go by the name Leticia. Flaunting his gender exploration within the strict bounds of a school dress code, Larry had begun recently wearing makeup to school, and baby-heeled boots along with his shirt and slacks.
After hearing about Letrice’s story, Ellen Degeneres had the following to say:
The facts are somewhat jumbled (likely because this is soon after the shooting), but the emotions are quite real—it’s a theme that will follow throughout the trial as well. First hand accounts of Brandon and Larry’s interactions remained limited, as Brandon refused to discuss anything pertaining to the shooting during or after the trial. Brandon’s homophobia, however, was undisputed. He’d stated repeatedly that he specifically hated Larry, reciting a lengthy list of threats against him to friends and classmates.
For this reason, Ken Corbett, a well-published gender scholar, took interest in the case. In A Murder Over a Girl: Justice, Gender, and Junior High, Corbett is a uniquely qualified guide through the extended (and endlessly frustrating) trial. A psychotherapy and psychoanalysis expert by training, he’s able to weed through testimonies rife with pandering in order to help the reader discern the facts. As a gender scholar focused on exhibitions of traditional masculinity, Corbett is further qualified to discuss how the fragility of masculinity and heteronomativity played pivotal roles in McInerney’s trial.
Regardless of one’s views on transgender rights, it’s a frustrating trial for an endless number of reasons. Corbett’s supplemental coffeehouse interviews with those close to the victim and the murderer illustrate the degree to which both boys were failed by the teachers, parents, and friends surrounding them. Using the perspective provided by each witness, Corbett forms a narrative critical of not only Brandon’s role, but of society’s as well. Like all great books, A Murder Over a Girl is not solely about the characters within its pages—eight years removed from the crime, it continues to point fingers at a society that still cannot seem figure out where trans people should use the restroom.It continues to point fingers at a society that continues to excuse lynchings motivated by the hyperbolic fear of an “other.”
It’s unfortunate that I hadn’t finished reading Ken Corbett’s A Murder Over a Girl: Justice, Gender, Junior High before publishing my list of 6 Best Reads of 2016 (so far) on Tuesday, because it would have been a strong contender. Timely and extensively researched, the only negative aspects were the unnecessary personal anecdotes Corbett inserted. Even those, however, served to humanize an author with a deeply intimate connection to the story he watched unfold. I gave this book 4/5 stars, and have already recommended it to friends who are deeply entrenched in gender studies. I’d even recommend it to book clubs willing to take on a heavy read that will stick around for long minutes after it’s placed back on the shelf.
*I chose to use the name Larry for the sake of continuity.
Edit: I didn’t know this when I posted the review, but March 31st is Trans Visibility Day. Happy Trans Day of Visibility!
Disclaimer: I was given this book in exchange for an honest review.