ARC Review: Man O’ War by Cory McCarthy

Crushed on by Kelly BookCrushin, on May 26, 2022, in New Releases, Reviews / 1 Comment

ARC Review: Man O’ War by Cory McCarthy

Man O’ War by Cory McCarthy is everything I expected it to be, raw, real, funny, and inspirational. Definitely my favorite read of the year (so far, and I expect it to stay at the top of the list) and it was just brilliant – I hope everyone picks this queer trans coming-of-age story! Preorder now for the May 31st release! It is the perfect book for your Pride reading lists, and you can order a specially hand-crafted stamped & signed edition from Cory’s local bookstore Bear Pond Books (see embedded image below)!

ARC Review: Man O’ War by Cory McCarthy

Man o' War

by Cory McCarthy
Published by: Dutton Books for Young Readers
on May 31, 2022
Genres: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, Young Adult

An achingly honest and frequently hilarious coming-of-age novel about an Arab American trans swimmer fighting to keep their head above water in a landlocked Midwestern town.

River McIntyre has grown up down the street from Sea Planet, an infamous marine life theme park slowly going out of business in small-town Ohio. When a chance encounter with a happy, healthy queer person on the annual field trip lands River literally in the shark tank, they must admit the truth: they don’t know who they are—only what they’ve been told to be. This sets off a wrenching journey of self-discovery, from internalized homophobia and gender dysphoria, through layers of coming out, affirmation surgery, and true freakin’ love.

"River is the most emotionally engaging character I've read in a long time, and this novel is a deep and comprehensive exploration of the journey transgender people trek through the confining world they're born into. Eye-opening, heartfelt, and real--with a massive payoff of true love." --A.S. King, author of Dig, winner of the Michael L. Printz Award


Man O’ War is one of the most relevant trans YA books I have ever read. It just absolutely rocked me…like totally blew my mind at how amazing it was – BRILLIANT. It is raw, angry, real, and perfect. We are taken on the journey through River’s coming-of-age understanding of who they are and how they get there, all the while it doesn’t gloss over the hard topics of racism, gender, sexuality, identity, internalized homophobia & transphobia. As children we are still so deeply steeped in cis heteronormativity, that books like Man O’ War give life to exploring those barriers and how to break free – all the while using amazing sea life imagery and comparisons to living in captivity as a major plot of the local Sea Planet park.

River feels complete in the water…he is on the swim team and being in the water blocks out all the noise. However, being on the swim team brings loads of body dysphoria and River is struggling to breathe out of the water. They feel a deep connection to sea life that can’t survive in their tanks, and neither can he, in their land locked small town, that is only known for the Sea Planet park…which ultimately helps River in many ways.

He meets queer folks at Sea Planet who give him the words and the overwhelming feelings of what exactly he may be experiencing. It is there the first time he learns about binders, about stable queer adults in loving relationships, about a person who changes their pronouns to what fits them on that day. Also about how some people will pull you out of the shark tank in not only the literal sense, but metaphorically too. It is where kindness, strangeness, and love all find their way to River…it’s also where he finds his true name and his true love in Indy.

I really loved one of the main take aways for me, is that there isn’t one way to be queer or trans, and everyone’s queer journey is different and valid. For River, it started with internalized homophobia, then embracing the lesbian girlfriend, learning of agender, nonbinary, and trans folk, which ultimately led them to embrace their trans identity when they were finally able and safe.

Let me be clear, River is volatile as a teen, but the best part is that he really grows into who he is and we are given an epilogue showing River stable and happy with his identity and his life. River made it through all his childhood trauma and also proves the importance of visibility and having the words and people to look up to – to help discern that his feelings were valid and that it was possible to break free of his captivity.

Please check for content warnings – the author includes these at the beginning of the book: gender dysphoria, internalized homophobia, self-harm, cissexism, and racism.

I received an ARC from the publisher and author and in no way does this influence my thoughts above.

screenshot taken from Cory McCarthy’s instagram stories

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