This trans coming-of-age story was a great way to jumpstart my reading in 2021. It is the story of Felix Love, an aspiring artist who dreams of attending Brown University. He and his best friend, Ezra Patel, attend St. Catherine’s, a private New York high school. While Ezra’s family is insanely wealthy, Felix is a scholarship student who now lives in Harlem with his dad, who works multiple jobs to help pay for the remaining costs of Felix’s education.
Felix’s dad has been very supportive of Felix’s transition, helping to pay for top surgery and hormone treatments, but he still struggles with Felix’s identity and using his new name. Felix’s mom left the family before Felix transitioned and has not kept in contact. Felix has drafted 472 e-mails to his mom over the last few years but has never hit SEND. Add to this situation the fact that the pressure on Felix to succeed as an artist is high. He has not been the strongest student but he wants passionately to attend Brown University, to show that someone like him (brown and trans) can make it.
The novel starts as Felix and Ezra head to start the first day of a summer program at St. Catherine’s, a program that Felix hopes will help him build a stronger portfolio for college and help him achieve his dreams. However, Felix is thrown off stride when someone creates an art installation in the lobby of the school, featuring old Instagram pictures of Felix as a girl and featuring his deadname. Felix immediately suspects Declan Keane, a classmate who used to date Ezra but who now seems to actively hate both of them. Felix sets out to prove it was Declan and to get revenge.
However, things aren’t what they seem and Felix’s journey leads him to question all his relationships and his own identity in ways that are ultimately more liberating.
I feel like the word “refreshing” gets overused when talking about books from perspectives that are not white, middle-class, cis-gender, etc. but truthfully, I found this book to be a delightful combination of traditional YA (hero negotiates relationships, finds their voice) and a viewpoint that wasn’t familiar to me. However, I am reminded at the end of the novel that the primary audience for this book is not me. In an author’s note, Kacen Callender talks about the important role Adam, a non-binary character on Degrasssi: The Next Generation, played for them in realizing their identity and they hope that Felix will do the same for others. That is important work.