Wandering Son (volume three) by Shimura Takako
Nitori and Takatsuki are two elementary school kids with a secret, although it's not a secret once their exhange diary falls into the wrong hands. Nitori finds himself daydreaming about wearing dresses and being a girl while Takatsuki hates the idea of dresses and is much more comfortable dressing and acting as a boy. Life is hard enough without these additional challenges, especially when there isn't anyone there to help guide you along the way but they're going to muddle through as best as they can.
The series seems to have its stride now after the rocky first volume and much more solid second one, it's doing a nice job balancing both Nitori and Takatsuki's lives and also showing snippets in the lives of the rest of their friends. I was a bit confused by the new character Mako, whom I seem to remember from the anime but with a completely different personality (although it's been years since I've seen the show) but that was the only really odd moment that stuck out to me. Well, as I mentioned last time the adult character Yuki also rubs me the wrong way a bit, seeing strange adults with young children should make you worried and a few of her actions don't help, and I again seem to recall her acting a bit differently in the anime. I'll note that we still haven't hit the material that the anime did adapt so it's entirely possible that the characters had changed even more by that point and that's the reason for these few inconsistencies.
One thing that also struck me is that, in some ways, Nitori's sister Maho actually isn't that bad of an older sibling. She certainly does tease Nitori a lot but I feel that a lot of the weird situations she puts Nitori in (such as the date and the modeling) are done partially for their benefit, as if she realizes deep down that this is a way for Nitori to do more girly things. Of course each of these situations has helped her in the long run (and also backfired in the process) so I could be reading too far into this but I do feel like in her own way Maho is starting to notice that something is going on and has decided that this is how she's going to deal with it. I really do feel like one of the strengths of this series is how it does manage to focus on such a large extended cast and show them growing up as well and by doing that it makes all the characters feel more complete. And, by showing such a large cast, you sometimes start to get the feeling that just maybe everyone is a little queer and that you know what that's okay. I love stories which lead me to think of other things long after I'm done and I do like the nudging way this story makes me reconsider parts of (American) society and what I would like to help change about it instead.
I will say (consider this seperate from the rest of the reivew) that as some readers already know, Wandering Son ended a few months ago in Japan and I went poking around for some vague spoilers for how the series ended (since, not only is this one of the relativey few stories about transgender characters, that I know of, and I can't think of any others that have covered so many years of their lives, this puts an enormous amount of pressure on the story to tell a very delicate sort of tale "right"), I was unsure of how i felt about the ending when I first read it (especially since, like I said, I wnated the bare minimum of spoilers so I don't know what had happened between the end of the anime and where the characters currently were in their lives) but knowing what happens and having read this volume I felt better about it. I don't know how far in advance Takako planned out the ending, especially considering just how many years this story ran, but I feel like she established her characters very well early on and then stayed true to them to the end which is what you really hope for in any story.