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Man o' War

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Paperback
$11.99 US
5.5"W x 8.25"H x 0.87"D  
On sale May 30, 2023 | 336 Pages | 978-0-593-35372-1
| Grade 9 & Up
Reading Level: Lexile HL690L
A Stonewall Honor Book

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

Man o' wars are not jellyfish, and River McIntyre is not happy. River doesn't know why they're unhappy—though perhaps it has something to do with the way they relate more to captive marine life at the local aquarium than to the people around them. That is, until they have a run-in with Indigo "Indy" Waits on the annual class field trip. Face-to-face with an affirmed queer person, River leaps out of the closet and into the shark tank. Literally. What follows is a wrenching journey of self-discovery that spans years and winds through layers of coming out, transition, and top surgery, promising a free life for River with so much more than happiness: A life that's full of trans joy and true 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
© Cory McCarthy
Cory McCarthy (he/they) is the award-winning author of numerous bestselling and award winning books for young readers, including Hope Is an Arrow, about fellow Arab American Kahlil Gibran, and Man o' War, a Stonewall Honor Book. He also contributed to the Michael L. Printz Award winning anthology The Collectors: Stories. Cory studied poetry and screenwriting before falling in love with writing for young adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where he now teaches. View titles by Cory McCarthy

Chapter 4

“That thing about diving into the shark tank? That was mostly an accident.”

The SeaPlanet hiring manager, a Mr. Sims, scrolled through my application. I could tell when he’d gotten to the interesting part because his finger came to an abrupt halt on the tablet screen. The air-­conditioning unit, which must have been left over from the Civil War, filled the tin human-­resources trailer with a battle hum. “I heard about the kid in the shark tank, although I was at the Orlando park then. Was that last season?”

“Year and a half ago. There was a five-hundred-­day ban on my presence here. And that was up . . . yesterday. Which I took as a good sign.”

His face did not betray his thoughts. “A good sign to apply to work here?”

“I live three miles away. Where else should I work?”

Sims leaned back and his chair gave a tiny scream. He seemed tired like an old white man, but I guessed his age was somewhere greater than undergrad and less than adult. He’d probably been interviewing high school kids every twenty minutes for the last three weeks straight. I could picture his fridge: Bud Light Lime and oxidized sriracha. “That’s not the answer we hope for at SeaPlanet,” he concluded.

“Oh, right. I want to become an oceanographer,” I amended with all the vocal enthusiasm of Siri. “The ocean speaks to me, and I must follow its call.”

“How many times have you been to the ocean?”

Low blow. Ohio was landlocked states deep. Unless you count Lake Erie, and if you’ve ever seen Lake Erie, you wouldn’t.

“The locals here are always so insulated.” Sims shook his head. A local at SeaPlanet of Ohio is better than a franchise bitch. My counselor would be so proud that I’d held that one in. Something about coming out this past year had left me saltier than ever. Sims clicked a box on the screen, and it made a netch sound. “ ‘Aspires to biology or related career’ works just fine. I have a feeling your classmates have helped you game the system.”

“You don’t have to ask the same questions every single year.”

“As if I write the questions.” He was nearly smiling, which was weird. He couldn’t actually be considering hiring me. I’d told Taylor this was a complete waste of time—­why would SeaPlanet hire someone who was behind the park’s “second-­worst insurance nightmare”?—­but she’d insisted we apply. And what the girlfriend wants, the girlfriend gets. “So, how does one accidentally fall into a shark tank?”

Mostly an accident. I didn’t plan on diving in. And I know how suspicious it seems because I was wearing my suit, but I always did that back then.” And lesson learned in antibiotics and Diflucan. “I was going through something, but I’m done there.”

Which was true. Now instead of frequenting the gyno, I saw a licensed mental health counselor for my bimonthly dose ofwhy me.

“The sharks didn’t bite. Not even a nibble,” I told him, remembering the burn of the frigid water loaded with salinization chemicals. Sims was right; I’d never been to the ocean, but I was pretty sure the sea didn’t scald like that. “Everyone wants to know if the sharks bit me, but you’ve seen the tank, those are low-­level sharks. Under four feet. I was a big, crashing predator. Also, I found out afterward that sharks in captivity turn anorexic and pretty much always die of starvation within a year.” I could tell that this was new intel to Sims, but not a deal breaker. One needed flexible morals to work here.

“Everyone overreacted, if you ask me.”

Sims stared like I’d been talking for a long time. I wrapped it up. “It’s not like SeaPlanet took out a permanent restraining order. I wrote an apology to the owner of the park, and he wrote me back.” I pointed to the tablet. “I attached the pdf in references.”

“Would you do it again?”

He was asking if I had plans to drop myself into another tank, but it felt like he was asking if I’d come out again. Hold my breath through the shark-­week-­turned-­entire-­season, answering every intrusive question from family, friends, and foes like a robot who could only say lesbian.

“No.”

He looked at his tablet and returned to the mandatory questions, his own programming kicking in. “If you were babysitting, and there was a knock on the door and the baby started crying and you were cooking something on the stove, what would you do?”

“Question my life choices.”

“You have to answer if you want me to consider your application. Sarcastic charisma isn’t on this checklist, River.”

“River?” I repeated.

“Rain?” His finger poised to scroll all the way back up my application to my name but his expression begged for me to just tell him. Finally he found it on the screen. “Knew it was a water name. So I was pretty close.” He squinted at the tablet. “Your answer?”

“I’d check on the baby, turn off the stove, and answer the door.” Nailed it. Taylor had drilled me on this ridiculous question at lunch. Apparently how swiftly you answered mattered a lot more than what you said. They hired quick thinkers and multitaskers at SeaPlanet; like I said, morality was optional.






Educator Guide for Man o' War

Classroom-based guides appropriate for schools and colleges provide pre-reading and classroom activities, discussion questions connected to the curriculum, further reading, and resources.

(Please note: the guide displayed here is the most recently uploaded version; while unlikely, any page citation discrepancies between the guide and book is likely due to pagination differences between a book’s different formats.)

  • HONOR | 2023
    Stonewall Children's and Young Adult Literature Award
A Stonewall Honor Book

"I loved the way this book explored the intersection between trans and mixed-race identity through a deeply honest portrait of how small-town life can constrict when you don’t fit in. I wish it had existed when I was a teen grappling with my own identity."—Tehlor Kay Mejia for the New York Times

★ "A beautiful and relentless current of emotion."—Kirkus, starred review

★ "A thoughtful, nuanced exploration of what it’s like to feel trapped—and how to make it out."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

★ "McCarthy engages with every aspect of River’s life to create an extraordinary story with incredible depth.... [F]erociously resists the idea that coming out is a simple or straightforward process."—BookPage, starred review 

“In this intimate and deeply character-driven story, the exceptional writing exquisitely captures River’s cutting but self-protective voice. McCarthy makes it clear that there is joy and love to be found in moving from the captivity of anger and pain to the liberation of being able to be exactly who you are. Equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming, this is a poignant, affirming story.”—SLJ, starred review

"This gorgeous story of self-discovery is a triumph."—Buzzfeed

"There are parts of River's journey that make you ache to read, but there is so much joy in the healing! This is a really authentic tale about the journey to queer joy and all the bumps and obstacles along the way."—New York Times bestselling author Aiden Thomas for Entertainment Weekly

"Cory McCarthy has written a triumphant trans coming of age novel with depth, nuance, heart and humor."—Ms. Magazine

"McCarthy deftly presents the humor and heartbreak of River’s journey, avoiding easy answers and embracing nuance. Readers will root for River through the pain, anger, and swim meets and be rewarded with a love story destined to make a splash."—Booklist

“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

“An emotional gut punch of a coming-of-age book, and an absolute masterclass in writing character growth. I was so invested in these characters, and the prose was legitimately breathtaking.”—Becky Albertalli, NYT bestselling author of Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda

"With a voice like a tidal wave, Cory McCarthy crafts a story about the messy, beautiful work of discovering—and rediscovering—the parts of yourself that are most difficult and rewarding to love."—Adib Khorram, award-winning author of Darius the Great Is Not Okay

"This is a book that will pull you through the cold honest water of the closet with laughter and love. McCarthy assembles pain, realization, romance, and joy into a living thing—a man-of-war everyone will be able to see themselves in. Man O' War is the pressure of a deep dive, and then coming up for air. Astoundingly honest and compelling."—Lev Rosen, acclaimed author of Camp

"Man o' War is epic in every sense—in its journey, its love story, its wholehearted embrace of self. I couldn’t put it down."—Elana K. Arnold, National Book Award finalist and Michael L. Printz honoree

“Man o’ War is a love story that takes you to the deep end and back again. When you and River emerge from its depths, you'll be breathless and shining with love. It’s funny, painful, sad, and deliriously sweet—a beacon for everyone who’s ever felt submerged by the expectations of others.”—Martha Brockenbrough, author of Into the Bloodred Woods

"Layered, honest, funny and heartbreaking, McCarthy has written a story so unflinchingly honest and pure it will stay with you for years to come."—Sara Farizan, award-winning author of If You Could Be Mine


An Autostraddle Best Book of the Year
A BookPage Best Book of the Year

A Buzzfeed Best Book of the Year
A Chicago Public Library Best Book of the Year
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year





About

A Stonewall Honor Book

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

Man o' wars are not jellyfish, and River McIntyre is not happy. River doesn't know why they're unhappy—though perhaps it has something to do with the way they relate more to captive marine life at the local aquarium than to the people around them. That is, until they have a run-in with Indigo "Indy" Waits on the annual class field trip. Face-to-face with an affirmed queer person, River leaps out of the closet and into the shark tank. Literally. What follows is a wrenching journey of self-discovery that spans years and winds through layers of coming out, transition, and top surgery, promising a free life for River with so much more than happiness: A life that's full of trans joy and true 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

Author

© Cory McCarthy
Cory McCarthy (he/they) is the award-winning author of numerous bestselling and award winning books for young readers, including Hope Is an Arrow, about fellow Arab American Kahlil Gibran, and Man o' War, a Stonewall Honor Book. He also contributed to the Michael L. Printz Award winning anthology The Collectors: Stories. Cory studied poetry and screenwriting before falling in love with writing for young adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where he now teaches. View titles by Cory McCarthy

Excerpt

Chapter 4

“That thing about diving into the shark tank? That was mostly an accident.”

The SeaPlanet hiring manager, a Mr. Sims, scrolled through my application. I could tell when he’d gotten to the interesting part because his finger came to an abrupt halt on the tablet screen. The air-­conditioning unit, which must have been left over from the Civil War, filled the tin human-­resources trailer with a battle hum. “I heard about the kid in the shark tank, although I was at the Orlando park then. Was that last season?”

“Year and a half ago. There was a five-hundred-­day ban on my presence here. And that was up . . . yesterday. Which I took as a good sign.”

His face did not betray his thoughts. “A good sign to apply to work here?”

“I live three miles away. Where else should I work?”

Sims leaned back and his chair gave a tiny scream. He seemed tired like an old white man, but I guessed his age was somewhere greater than undergrad and less than adult. He’d probably been interviewing high school kids every twenty minutes for the last three weeks straight. I could picture his fridge: Bud Light Lime and oxidized sriracha. “That’s not the answer we hope for at SeaPlanet,” he concluded.

“Oh, right. I want to become an oceanographer,” I amended with all the vocal enthusiasm of Siri. “The ocean speaks to me, and I must follow its call.”

“How many times have you been to the ocean?”

Low blow. Ohio was landlocked states deep. Unless you count Lake Erie, and if you’ve ever seen Lake Erie, you wouldn’t.

“The locals here are always so insulated.” Sims shook his head. A local at SeaPlanet of Ohio is better than a franchise bitch. My counselor would be so proud that I’d held that one in. Something about coming out this past year had left me saltier than ever. Sims clicked a box on the screen, and it made a netch sound. “ ‘Aspires to biology or related career’ works just fine. I have a feeling your classmates have helped you game the system.”

“You don’t have to ask the same questions every single year.”

“As if I write the questions.” He was nearly smiling, which was weird. He couldn’t actually be considering hiring me. I’d told Taylor this was a complete waste of time—­why would SeaPlanet hire someone who was behind the park’s “second-­worst insurance nightmare”?—­but she’d insisted we apply. And what the girlfriend wants, the girlfriend gets. “So, how does one accidentally fall into a shark tank?”

Mostly an accident. I didn’t plan on diving in. And I know how suspicious it seems because I was wearing my suit, but I always did that back then.” And lesson learned in antibiotics and Diflucan. “I was going through something, but I’m done there.”

Which was true. Now instead of frequenting the gyno, I saw a licensed mental health counselor for my bimonthly dose ofwhy me.

“The sharks didn’t bite. Not even a nibble,” I told him, remembering the burn of the frigid water loaded with salinization chemicals. Sims was right; I’d never been to the ocean, but I was pretty sure the sea didn’t scald like that. “Everyone wants to know if the sharks bit me, but you’ve seen the tank, those are low-­level sharks. Under four feet. I was a big, crashing predator. Also, I found out afterward that sharks in captivity turn anorexic and pretty much always die of starvation within a year.” I could tell that this was new intel to Sims, but not a deal breaker. One needed flexible morals to work here.

“Everyone overreacted, if you ask me.”

Sims stared like I’d been talking for a long time. I wrapped it up. “It’s not like SeaPlanet took out a permanent restraining order. I wrote an apology to the owner of the park, and he wrote me back.” I pointed to the tablet. “I attached the pdf in references.”

“Would you do it again?”

He was asking if I had plans to drop myself into another tank, but it felt like he was asking if I’d come out again. Hold my breath through the shark-­week-­turned-­entire-­season, answering every intrusive question from family, friends, and foes like a robot who could only say lesbian.

“No.”

He looked at his tablet and returned to the mandatory questions, his own programming kicking in. “If you were babysitting, and there was a knock on the door and the baby started crying and you were cooking something on the stove, what would you do?”

“Question my life choices.”

“You have to answer if you want me to consider your application. Sarcastic charisma isn’t on this checklist, River.”

“River?” I repeated.

“Rain?” His finger poised to scroll all the way back up my application to my name but his expression begged for me to just tell him. Finally he found it on the screen. “Knew it was a water name. So I was pretty close.” He squinted at the tablet. “Your answer?”

“I’d check on the baby, turn off the stove, and answer the door.” Nailed it. Taylor had drilled me on this ridiculous question at lunch. Apparently how swiftly you answered mattered a lot more than what you said. They hired quick thinkers and multitaskers at SeaPlanet; like I said, morality was optional.






Guides

Educator Guide for Man o' War

Classroom-based guides appropriate for schools and colleges provide pre-reading and classroom activities, discussion questions connected to the curriculum, further reading, and resources.

(Please note: the guide displayed here is the most recently uploaded version; while unlikely, any page citation discrepancies between the guide and book is likely due to pagination differences between a book’s different formats.)

Awards

  • HONOR | 2023
    Stonewall Children's and Young Adult Literature Award

Praise

A Stonewall Honor Book

"I loved the way this book explored the intersection between trans and mixed-race identity through a deeply honest portrait of how small-town life can constrict when you don’t fit in. I wish it had existed when I was a teen grappling with my own identity."—Tehlor Kay Mejia for the New York Times

★ "A beautiful and relentless current of emotion."—Kirkus, starred review

★ "A thoughtful, nuanced exploration of what it’s like to feel trapped—and how to make it out."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

★ "McCarthy engages with every aspect of River’s life to create an extraordinary story with incredible depth.... [F]erociously resists the idea that coming out is a simple or straightforward process."—BookPage, starred review 

“In this intimate and deeply character-driven story, the exceptional writing exquisitely captures River’s cutting but self-protective voice. McCarthy makes it clear that there is joy and love to be found in moving from the captivity of anger and pain to the liberation of being able to be exactly who you are. Equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming, this is a poignant, affirming story.”—SLJ, starred review

"This gorgeous story of self-discovery is a triumph."—Buzzfeed

"There are parts of River's journey that make you ache to read, but there is so much joy in the healing! This is a really authentic tale about the journey to queer joy and all the bumps and obstacles along the way."—New York Times bestselling author Aiden Thomas for Entertainment Weekly

"Cory McCarthy has written a triumphant trans coming of age novel with depth, nuance, heart and humor."—Ms. Magazine

"McCarthy deftly presents the humor and heartbreak of River’s journey, avoiding easy answers and embracing nuance. Readers will root for River through the pain, anger, and swim meets and be rewarded with a love story destined to make a splash."—Booklist

“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

“An emotional gut punch of a coming-of-age book, and an absolute masterclass in writing character growth. I was so invested in these characters, and the prose was legitimately breathtaking.”—Becky Albertalli, NYT bestselling author of Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda

"With a voice like a tidal wave, Cory McCarthy crafts a story about the messy, beautiful work of discovering—and rediscovering—the parts of yourself that are most difficult and rewarding to love."—Adib Khorram, award-winning author of Darius the Great Is Not Okay

"This is a book that will pull you through the cold honest water of the closet with laughter and love. McCarthy assembles pain, realization, romance, and joy into a living thing—a man-of-war everyone will be able to see themselves in. Man O' War is the pressure of a deep dive, and then coming up for air. Astoundingly honest and compelling."—Lev Rosen, acclaimed author of Camp

"Man o' War is epic in every sense—in its journey, its love story, its wholehearted embrace of self. I couldn’t put it down."—Elana K. Arnold, National Book Award finalist and Michael L. Printz honoree

“Man o’ War is a love story that takes you to the deep end and back again. When you and River emerge from its depths, you'll be breathless and shining with love. It’s funny, painful, sad, and deliriously sweet—a beacon for everyone who’s ever felt submerged by the expectations of others.”—Martha Brockenbrough, author of Into the Bloodred Woods

"Layered, honest, funny and heartbreaking, McCarthy has written a story so unflinchingly honest and pure it will stay with you for years to come."—Sara Farizan, award-winning author of If You Could Be Mine


An Autostraddle Best Book of the Year
A BookPage Best Book of the Year

A Buzzfeed Best Book of the Year
A Chicago Public Library Best Book of the Year
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year





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