Overall, I enjoyed parts of the book and, while the characters annoyed me, I did still appreciate the craft and the journey and the occasional emotional connection.
Graphic: Abandonment, Toxic friendship, Toxic relationship, Emotional abuse, Hate crime, Deadnaming, Gaslighting, Bullying, Homophobia, Outing, and Transphobia
Moderate: Alcohol, Cursing, Dysphoria, Sexual content, and Panic attacks/disorders
Minor: Drug use and Classism
I found Felix a bit repetitive and contradictory towards the beginning of the book. If I wasn’t on a buddy-read I might’ve given up at some point in the first third of the book. But since the book is written in the present tense exclusively from Felix’s perspective in the first person, I wasn’t sure if it was bad writing or just a terribly good representation of a 17-year-old’s trauma brain, so I gave it the benefit of the doubt. As the character developed, the repetition subsided and he became aware of his contradictions. There were different phases of the book in which the writing kinda changed because of Felix’s growing self-understanding.
The groups of teens chatting were obviously used as a vehicle to address many tropes and present the generally accepted opinions and ongoing discussion in the community at the moment. It was obvious, but the topics being discussed fitted into the different parts of story, which now makes me realise that a lot of effort must have gone into crafting that aspect of the book. While I recognised all of these themes and the details, a 17-year-old reading this might not be aware of it all, and so I feel this is all quite valuable. There are other aspects of the book that aim to make the book seem real and relatable, and that’s obviously especially true of intersectional folk. All-in-all that makes the book a great resource for younger intersectional folk, and younger folk in general. I’m not sure what a younger hetero-cis person would make of this… maybe it could shape how they see trans and queer folks, and maybe their own place in relation to us.
Felix thought that all older trans folk have it all figured out. It may not be important to the target audience, I don’t know, but the author missed a trick in Bex’s gender discussion group where all the older folks really did have it all figured out. This is such a shame, as it’s really not like this in real life. If one of the older folks in the group had been there with some of Felix’s questions, then I might’ve seen myself represented in this book. I was also frustrated that Felix had so many more questions than the one they asked, and not all of these were answered by rest of the group’s discussions.
But then Felix was in general a frustrating character in so many ways. For somebody who started the book with way more self-awareness and self-assurance than I had at even twice his age, he was just so annoyingly dense! That fact that in early chapters he was literally spooning with his best friend, and Ezra was almost like an overprotective parent or husband, and he was excited by the train experience… I mean, c’mon Felix ffs!
The whole journey with Declan was very nicely crafted, and I really felt the excitement, awkwardness, and dismay as this storyline progressed. That Declan’s grandad with the dude on the train was a nice touch. And that Declan couldn’t talk to Felix afterward was one of many, many decisions by the author that made the book so real. And that we only see that from Felix’s perspective made me ache.
The only other parts that I felt truly emotionally connected to were his Pride march experience and his entering the zone when painting (though for me it's music) There was also maybe a hint of being okay with the attention of the gallery, but also that not being the point and not really wanting to stick around for the fuss, which I feel.
There were was some very black-and-white thinking in the book, typifying teen thinking (also bringing up the argument of who is b/w… NDs or NTs?) though Felix clearly wasn’t guilty of this (ND? was hinted at!) Felix started the book with thing going around and around in his head, and also basically gaslighting himself. Later in the book he let’s go a little and learns that experience is what it is, but you can’t learn and grow without it. Other lessons the book offers are: it’s okay to cut people off if they cross a line; you should take other people’s advice; art is a great medium for self-expression, especially if you’re struggling to find yourself; honesty is the best policy; and more… and I think that all of these are delivered with that black-and-white thinking – and I disagree with that now, but when I was 17 I could have done with reading that.
Throughout much of the book, Brown is the goal. At some point, the gallery and internship becomes a possibility, and I even thought that if Felix does that, then Declan could get the scholarship and they could remain friends. In the end, Felix gets the gallery, but we don’t go beyond. The success is in love and self-discovery and recognising he was already brave enough to take chances and tell his story and have those conversations. Felix was literally lying to himself earlier in the book! I cried so much in the last few chapters, and I wish I had had this experience at 17. In the end, we don’t learn what Felix does next, because that’s not the point… and maybe the target audience benefits from living with that uncertainty, while I just appreciate that it was a good place to stop.
Ultimately, while I kinda dislike all the characters or aspects of them, I think it was an honest showcase of a broad-spectrum of LGBTQIA+ issues, attitudes, and how different personalities interact within that environment and beyond. I felt it would be a very relatable, affirming and informative read for a young trans person who was out to their folks already. Since everything was told from the perspective of the teen, even the parental grief, that was troubling Felix so much throughout the book, is told from a perspective of gradual understanding and acceptance. I feel this part is like a microcosm for the whole narrative, in which Felix does a 180 from the start to the end of the book and comes to relate to a person in a whole new way, even though his fundamental/practical relationship with them hasn’t really changed in reality. With the obvious exception of Leah, who was the net gain in friends from beginning to end… again, a pretty realistic representation of college life.
In the end, Felix was trans, queer, from a poor background, confused, and potentially ND but definitely traumatized. In these ways I related to him. I just wish I was as smart and self-aware as him at that age, and had grown up in a time with any trans/queer representation. I definitely related to the gender group chat about how easy the young’uns have it these days… even though it’s demonstrably still very hard. Another thing that was familiar to me was the (very normalized) drinking and drugs and partying and not wanting the loud parties.
Issues I noticed and still remember now:
• Transphobia in general
• Transphobia from within queer community
• Transphobia at home
• Broken families and childhood guilt
• Socio-economic privilege
• Misogyny and feminism wrt trans
• Cis-heteronormativity + white privilege
• Self-image vs image
• Gender expression and its relation to identity
• Self-esteem and self-worth, and (our choice in?) their origins of derivation
• Bodily autonomy and its compromise
• Choice generally, and its freedom or not
• Bullying and gaslighting
• Personal safety
• Coallescence of queer peers
• Emotoinal independence and codependence
• Cyber bullying/hacking
• Trust and layers/Venn diagrams thereof
• Pride, self-love and community-love
• Personal vulnerability and risk assessment
• Parental grief
• Obsessive coping/pathology
• Overwhelming experiences, good, bad and otherwise
• Gender being behind a paywall
They were mostly obvious, which suits an audience that isn't already aware, or maybe benefits from modelling the ideas. A couple I think the audience would already be familiar with and were probably added to make the book more relatable, but also to make it a book about issues and to make the reader feel that it wasn't all new.