A Murder Over a Girl (Henry Holt & Company)
On February 12, 2008, a beautiful morning in Oxnard, CA, 14-year-old Brandon McInerney and the rest of his eighth grade class walked to the computer lab with their teacher, Dawn Boldrin. As his classmates typed their history papers, Brandon quietly stood and shot 15-year-old Larry King—who for just two weeks had been wearing traditionally female accessories and identifying as “Leticia”—twice in the head.
Larry died in the hospital two days later. Psychologist and NYU professor Ken Corbett was unsettled by the media coverage that sidestepped the issues of gender identity and race, and went to California to attend the trial. In , A Murder Over a Girl, Corbett, a leading expert on gender and masculinity, details the case, and all the social issues still littering the American landscape eight years later.
The brutal murder begged the question: How this could happen? Ellen DeGeneres spoke out; Newsweek and The Advocateran cover stories. Once again, "a normal boy” like Brandon had taken a gun into a school and killed another student in cold blood. But others, still, wondered: How could this not happen?
In many ways this was a “perfect storm” of race, poverty, gun violence, and gender identity fueled by ignorance and fear. Brandon had been raised by drug-addicted parents. His mother shot his father days before their wedding, and his father later shot his mother in front of him. His home was a veritable culture of guns. Larry’s birth mother was a 15-year-old drug addicted prostitute. He had recently been removed from his adoptive parents’ home after reporting abuse. Larry identified as gay from the age of 10, and by 15 had realized he was a girl. He wore makeup and stilettos to school with his uniform and had asked the boy who would be his killer to be his valentine. Brandon says he was being sexually harassed by Larry and sought peace the only way he knew how.
Nearly eight years later, we as a country are not on the same page on so many of the major issues at play: gender identity; sexual and racial equality; gun control; drug laws. Neither experts nor lawmakers nor voters can come to a consensus, and yet, teachers—most of whom have received no training in any of these areas—are thrust to the forefront in the classroom.
Praise for A Murder Over A Girl:
“Harrowing, humane, and utterly engaging, A Murder Over a Girl is a triumph of storytelling, delivering deep insight into gender and adolescence while drawing us into a fascinating narrative. It is a book very much of the moment, but at its heart it is a classic tale of human emotion.”—Susan Orlean, New York Times bestselling author of The Orchid Thief
“Ken Corbett was put on earth to write this stunning book, now, at a moment in our history when we need him to be our secret agent, our witness, our guide inside the maelstrom of this mad hatter court.”—PETER CAREY, Booker Prize-winning author of Oscar and Lucinda and The True History of the Kelly Gang
“With great compassion, insight, and care, Ken Corbett takes us to the scene in which one transgendered child’s daring and vibrant bid to become a girl met with the murderous rage of a boy well taught in using a gun. A murdered girl is gone, a nearly undocumented life, yet her spectre lives on in this remarkable book, a narration that enters us into the minds of those who make hatred into a form of pernicious reasoning. A Murder Over a Girl is about youth culture, gender, school, and the failures of the legal system, about cunning reversals in argument whereby murderers are cast as victims, and the traces of the dead are nearly effaced. Corbett does justice to this death and to this life with a book both intelligent and loving, exposing a world tragically lacking in those very qualities, calling upon us all to intervene to halt gender violence before it begins.”—Judith Butler, author of Gender Trouble
“A Murder Over a Girl narrates a searing tragedy, meticulously laying out the aftermath of the crime, exposing the pathos not only of the victim, but also of the classmates, parents, jurors, lawyers, and others who had to grapple with the troubling nuance of the case. And in doing so Corbett unforgettably reveals the flaws of the American judicial system, the destructive influence of sensationalizing mass media, and the blindness of good intentions at the intersection of masculinity, grief, prejudice, and empathy.”—Andrew Solomon, New York Times bestselling author of Far from the Tree
“I’ve never read a book like A Murder Over a Girl. It’s an account of a murder trial, the outcome of which is known; yet, the book is a hard-to-put-down page-turner. It achieves its extraordinary narrative intensity not through any sensationalizing of the facts, but rather through its author’s quiet authority, piercing insights, and his refusal to deliver hasty or easy judgments. Through patience, respect and empathy, Corbett allows us to see how dehumanization conceals a consequential and potentially fatal refusal to confront loss. And in confronting loss, this book renders justice, restoring to the memory of the victim her dignity, her vital subjectivity and her agency. A Murder Over A Girl is magnificently written, shattering, original and immensely valuable."—Tony Kushner, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Angels in America
“There are events that break out of a culture as illness breaks out of a body. Ken Corbett has written an account of a crime yes, a trial yes, a tragedy, but he has also perceived a way for us to comprehend the gender dis-ease just below our cultural skin. This is a brilliant and necessary book.”
—Marie Howe, author of What the Living Do and The Kingdom of Ordinary Time
"One young teenager is dead. Another is a murderer. And all of our contemporary dividing lines--race, gender, class, orientation, homophobia, privilege, and fear of the unknown--are drawn in a California courtroom. Telling this devastating story with clarity, empathy, and insight, Ken Corbett brings his profound understanding of the minds of boys--their hopes, their dreams, their terrors, their longings--to bear in the service of making the unimaginable clear to us. This essential book will broaden your mind even as it breaks your heart." —Mark Harris, author of Pictures at A Revolution and Five Came Back
“Ken Corbett corrals the chaos and trauma of the King murder trial into a riveting story of the “cratered minds” that result from, and perpetrate, violence. With an analyst’s attunement, he also takes us beyond the courtroom, imagining his way into the lives and minds of Brandon McInerney and Leticia King with nuance and tremendous compassion. He gives a devastating account of the emotional landscapes of the school, the families, and the communities in which both murderer and victim were and were not held. Corbett’s determination that this crime be named and these lives be told results in a powerful and heartbreaking book.”—GAYLE SALAMON, author of Assuming a Body: Transgender and Rhetorics of Materiality
Ken Corbett is a clinical assistant professor at NYU in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy with a private practice in New York City. He is the author of Boyhoods: Rethinking Masculinities.
Maggie Nelson is the author of The Argonauts, as well as an American poet, art critic, lyric essayist and nonfiction author of books such as The Red Parts: A Memoir, The Art of Cruelty, Bluets, and Jane: A Murder. The Art of Cruelty was a 2011 Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times and recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Nonfiction. Jane: A Murder was a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir. Nelson has taught at the Graduate Writing Program of the New School, Wesleyan University, and the School of Art and Design at Pratt Institute; she currently teaches in the CalArts MFA writing program. She was awarded an Arts Writers grant in 2007 from the Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation. In 2011, she was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for Poetry.