Comic-author Ben Kahn is making their novel debut with a tribute to John Hughes' coming-of-age movies that also introduces nonbinary identity to children in grades 3-7.
Elle Campbell Wins Their Weekend is a comedic yet heartfelt story that Kahn likens to Ferris Bueller's Day Off, but geared towards a younger audience. The story follows Elle Campbell, a recently-out nonbinary student who learns that their hero, nonbinary icon Nuri Grena, is coming to town for book signing on Saturday.
Since they came out as nonbinary, Elle has a lot of questions — questions only Nuri can answer. But Elle's dreams seem squashed when an altercation with a substitute teacher lands them in Saturday detention. Elle is ready to give up, until their two best friends create a plan to bust them out of school. A plan so outrageous, it just might work.
Kahn, who is nonbinary, tells The Advocate Channel that it "means the world to get to write a nonbinary story with a nonbinary protagonist for my debut novel."
"It’s so important that we get to tell our own stories, and create the representation that we need to see," they say. "I really hope this book can be a source of joy and connection for people going through their own gender journeys, and also that it can be an insightful view into the nonbinary experience for people who aren’t questioning their gender."
Elle Campbell Wins Their Weekend was created during a time of unprecedented book bans in public schools, which have overwhelmingly targeted books with LGBTQ+ content — particularly those aimed at younger audiences. Its release also comes amidst a wave of legislation aiming to ban gender-affirming care for minors. None of this is lost on Kahn, who believes "we can't give up" on the progress that's been made for LGBTQ+ rights "without a fight."
"The way the trans community is being so heinously targeted makes my stomach churn. We’ve fought so hard to create a world trans youth can feel comfortable coming out and transitioning. We can’t give up on that progress without a fight," they say. "If these reactionary, hateful groups want to silence our stories, then that means we need to shout them even louder."
Kahn says that's why it was so important for both them and the book's publisher, Scholastic, to feature a gender-neutral pronoun prominently within the title. Not only does it make the book "undeniably nonbinary," but also because it demonstrates support for Elle and children like them.
"Having a they/them pronoun in the title was something the whole team felt very strongly about," Kahn explains. "We wanted the nonbinary identity of this book to be undeniable. Put it right there in the open before the reader has even opened the book. Elle learning to stand up for their identity was such a core part of the story, we had to live up to that lesson, too."
Kahn hopes that the story will connect with nonbinary and other transgender youth, as well as those who are not LGBTQ+. Beyond helping those struggling with their identity, Kahn also believes that the book can guide parents, teachers, and peers to better understand queer students.
They say: "I didn’t have the language or representation as a kid to understand what being nonbinary meant. If I had, maybe it could have saved me a lot of pain. I don’t want kids today to have to go through that, and I hope this book can be of help."
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