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Magee, B. (2016). A Murder over a Girl: Justice, Gender, Junior High. By Ken Corbett. New York: Henry Holt, 2016, xiv + 273 pp., $27.00 hardcover.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 64(6):1295-1298.

(2016). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 64(6):1295-1298

A Murder over a Girl: Justice, Gender, Junior High. By Ken Corbett. New York: Henry Holt, 2016, xiv + 273 pp., $27.00 hardcover.

Review by:
Bart Magee

A Murder over a Girl, Ken Corbett's artful Russian nesting dolls of a book (a junior high tragedy inside a psychoanalytic character study inside a story about boys—gender-variant and gender-panicked—inside a courtroom drama), breaks new ground as a psychoanalytic work. It also provides inspiration to those of us who recognize the value of a psychoanalytic perspective not only in therapy, but also outside, in the public sphere. Corbett tells the profoundly moving and tragic story of a fifteen-year-old California boy who had recently begun to identify as transgender and was murdered at school by a male classmate. In writing the book, Corbett immersed himself deeply in his subject, not only attending the entire murder trial, but also interviewing key participants extensively and throughout the ordeal. Having done so, he is able to contextualize the human story within the social, cultural, and gender dramas surrounding it. Though the incident occurred eight years ago, the book, considering the current social and political climate, could not be more timely.

Like Corbett's previous book, Boyhoods: Rethinking Masculinities, this one is highly theoretical. Yet it communicates subtle and sophisticated thoughts in clear language and an emotionally present voice that is intimate to the experience of the two teenaged boys, one dead, the other accused of the murder, and to all the people he meets or observes: students, family, community members, lawyers, witnesses, jurors. While staying close to his subjects, Corbett inserts his own measured thinking on the psychological and social themes the story evokes. Child development, gender, psychopathology, trauma, family relations, and sociocultural dynamics are all attentively explored and interwoven.

In its first pages, he presents a key courtroom scene in which a teenage witness to the murder takes the stand; through a sensitive accounting, Corbett immediately provides an emotional closeness to his subjects. His evocation of the scene allows the reader to experience what can be called “psychoanalytic listening,” that is, attending carefully and simultaneously to everything in the interpersonal and social environment.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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