Just read this novel. It’s incredible. I read it within 24 hours and was crying at the end. This is a YA novel, but I want every adult I know to read this powerful story of a trans teen who struggles to love himself. As a result, all of his relationships are strained. Felix Ever After (2020) is a National Book Award winner, a Stonewall Honor Book and a Time magazine Best YA Book of All Time. It provides a much needed perspective on trans life, trans rights, and the powerful hate and ignorance that the trans community faces.
It’s the summer between 11th and 12th grade, and Felix Love is attending a summer program at his prestigious arts high school. Felix and his classmates are all preparing portfolios to apply to colleges. Felix wants to get into the Brown University arts program, but he will need a strong portfolio and scholarship to do so, and he faces stiff competition from classmate and nemesis Declan. One morning, Felix and his best friend Ezra — a fellow art student from a very wealthy family — enter the school to see a “gallery” of photos featuring Felix. These photos have been hacked from his phone and show him as a child, before his transformation, and give his “deadname”, i.e. his previous name that he no longer uses. Felix is blindsided by this act of cruelty, while Ezra is furious and rips the photos down. The school administration assures Felix that they do not tolerate this behavior, that they support him, and that they will try to find the perpetrator, but Felix knows it had to be Declan. He resolves to find a way to get back at Declan but is not ready for what he will learn when he goes undercover on social media as “Lucky.”
This novel hits a lot of important themes: identity, intolerance, family discord, self-love. Felix is dealing with a lot on the inside that he doesn’t necessarily share with his father or his friend Ezra. While Felix knows he is not female and that he is trans, he feels like “male” as an identity is not right for him either. Felix also struggles with his parents. His father has been supportive of his transition but cannot call Felix by his real name; his mother abandoned him and his dad. Felix also desperately wants to be in love and be loved, but as the reader will see, his questions about his identity and his relationships with family and friends reinforce the idea he has that he is somehow unloveable. Felix feels that he has to prove himself to others, especially to those who have rejected him like his mother and a student named Marisol who accuses him of being a misogynist because he “chose” not to be female. All of this turmoil eats away at Felix, creating feelings of doubt and self-loathing despite the positivity he receives from his teacher and from Ezra.
Felix Ever After is the story of Felix’s journey toward self knowledge, love, and acceptance. His desire to prove wrong those who dislike and reject him might feel familiar to some readers. Why do we give so much power to people who reject us? I think it’s “normal” to want those who have misjudged and wronged us to see it and admit it, but it’s also unhealthy to obsess over something that is unlikely to happen. Better to love yourself and surround yourself with those who recognize your worth.
Felix Ever After features episodes of bullying, particularly the anonymous online kind, as well as prejudice and intolerance from people whom one might have expected to be allies. High school can be brutal, and just because you attend an arts high school full of non-cis/het students does not mean that everyone gets along and is supportive. Award-winning author Kacen Callender (they/them) does a fantastic job of showing the reader what is going on in Felix’s head and heart, showing how he slowly but surely begins to see the world around him and himself in a new light. There aren’t enough superlatives for this novel. It’s beautiful and you should definitely read it.