I can’t believe it took me almost nine months to hear about this book, and I only heard about it then because a particularly prolific book blogger I follow on Goodreads received a free review copy of the audiobook, and also gave it five stars. She also had not heard of it before, even though it had been published last May. This is a travesty. Everyone should be reading this book and singing its praises to the rooftops. Fucking everyone.
Golden Boy centers around Max Walker, an intersex teenager who identifies as male. The only people who know about his ambiguous gender are his parents, who have done all they could since he was a baby to make his life as normal as possible. In fact, everyone loves Max. His brother adores him, he’s popular at school, is great at sports, the top in all his classes, and is kind to everyone. But when Max is raped by a trusted childhood friend, things fall apart quickly. It sets in motion a process of self-discovery not just for Max, but for his entire family, and the girl he’s fallen in love with.
I don’t want to say too much about the plot because then I’d be a ruiner, but I would like to point out that I started this book at 5 PM on a Friday night, fully intending on only reading a couple of chapters before heading out for a movie or calling up a friend to go eat or something, but then somehow it was eight and then ten o’clock, and then I ended up reading straight through until the end. It was almost midnight by the time I finished (at which point I exploded my feelings all over Twitter, where the author responded very kindly, but more importantly, where I got at least two people to buy it that night). I shall continue my mission to make everyone read it forthwith.
The novel is told by several different narrators as they go about their lives and deal, knowingly and unknowingly, with the fallout from the rape: Max himself, his little brother Daniel (who is a bit odd, and knows it), his lawyer mother, his crush Sylvie, his doctor Archie from the local clinic, and a couple from the POV of his father, who is running for a seat in Parliament. What’s great about this is how distinct each voice is. I’m of the firm opinion that you can tell how talented an author is by their use of first person POV. It takes someone very talented to create a character’s distinct voice, one that helps to shape the character’s arc as well as portraying their personality (the beautiful harmony of style and function), and Abigail Tarttelin manages to create six. (Contrast this to several YA books I’ve read in the last couple of years where the first person narrators are indistinguishable not only from one another, but also from the author’s voice).
And if all that sexy talk of form and function isn’t doing it for you, perhaps I can interest you in the UTTER AND TOTAL AGONY OF EMOTIONS that you will also experience.
And it’s not just that the book is well-written, has interesting characters that you fall in love with or become extremely angry with, and centers on an interesting topic. Because it does all of those things very, very well. But it also happens to be insightful and beautiful and horrible and wonderful and uplifting all at the same time. And like all great pieces of literature, it manages to weave its thematic threads so subtly that you don’t realize you’re being wrapped up in them until they’ve got you tight without any possible hope of escape. It’s a great book, is what I’m saying. It’s the book I wanted from Middlesex (although I did quite enjoy that book, problems with it aside). It’s the book I never knew I always wanted.
Go read it. RIGHT NOW.