When Julian Gibson realizes he’s transgender, he doesn’t think anything has to change. His parents and friends still call him Julia and think he’s a girl, but so long as Julian can still hang out with his best friend Aiden and read sci-fi novels with his dad, life seems pretty good.
Then high school happens. Aiden ditches him, and a new girl, Maria, keeps cornering him in the girls’ bathroom. A full year after discovering he’s transgender, Julian realizes life changes whether you’re ready for it or not. So Julian makes a deal with himself: if he can tell his secret to three people, it is no longer a hoax. What happens during his slow process of coming out leads Julian down odd pathways of friendship, romance, Christmas shopping, random parties, bad movies, and a realization about why kids still believe in Santa—it’s sometimes better than discovering the truth.
Overall Rating: 8/10 stars
Matt’s Review: 4/5 Stars
This book wasn’t what I thought I was going to get. I was expecting the usual slushy Christmas story, and as someone who’s more than a bit of a Scrooge, that doesn’t float my boat. Instead, what I got was a sweet, sensitive YA that at times came off a little too sugar-coated, but at others gave a tart dose of the reality that trans teens face. And, bonus, it was M/F.
The book starts with a few time jumps, which I didn’t feel were entirely necessary but still allowed a really nice look at Julian’s family structure and his progression from a girl in middle school to a boy—albeit for the most part a closeted one—in high school. They were especially good with showing his relationship with his parents, although the significance of losing his best friend felt dulled by the fact that Aidan really didn’t seem to matter the further we got into the book.
As we do get further in, my favourite part of this book shows up: it isn’t clear, for a long time, which relationship is going to happen. At first, it was Julian and Maria. And then I thought, no, maybe there’s something here with Julian and Josie. And then Hannah swished into the frame, and I had to back up again. And that reminded me so much of being in high school myself, of never being able to predict who was going to end up dating who.
The bi rep was lovely to see. The way Julian felt about his own sexuality was really well done. The jar between being Maria’s girlfriend versus Maria’s boyfriend was something I skipped out on at high school, being asexual and at a single-sex school, but it’s one I remember from university and even have touches of now.
My only issue is that this book has definitely got an adult’s viewpoint on it. Julian’s parents are always called Damien and Sarah, even though he calls them Mom and Dad in the dialogue. There are also a few hits of thoughts, feelings, ways of speaking, that I’d be sceptical of coming from a teenager. So the overall way the novel is presented isn’t the strongest—but for me, it really didn’t detract as much as it usually does.
Maybe that’s because despite the usual hiccups and down moments, this story was overwhelmingly a happy story. Many teen trans characters are completely tormented and angst-riddled, but Julian got to enjoy himself. He had shots of optimism about his situation. He had a really cute way of testing the waters and coming out piece by piece, instead to the whole world at once. And I think that happiness, that calmness, overrode a lot of the little niggles for me. This is how I wish my coming out had worked. This is how I hope that one day, sadly too far in the future right now, coming out will work for trans kids the world over.
So overall, if you want a happy, sweet teen romance, I’d suggest picking this one up. It might just surprise you.
Maria’s Review: 4/5 Stars
This book really surprised me. I wasn’t sure if it really was for me when I picked it up, because I rarely read about high school freshmen and can get into the story. But that was definitely not the case here.
I really enjoyed the writing, and I loved Julian as a character. His love for books and reading made me happy, and spending time in his head was a highly emotional, very lovely experience. His thoughts and fears resonated with me on different levels, the happy experiences made me smile, the bad ones made me sniffle. And yes, I absolutely enjoyed his talks to his teacher and the side comments about THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER. Julian just was *real * and I loved him and his story. It was seriously all I could have wanted from this book and more.
I have to admit I had a harder time with the romance here. The main reason for it being Maria. I never really managed to get a good grasp on her character, other than that there was a complexity underneath the surface that was often only hinted at. She read older and younger to me at the same time, but I was never fully comfortable with her as the love interest/girlfriend. I would’ve loved Julian with one of the other girls a lot more.
Something that stuck with me though was the wonderful way friendships were portrayed here. They felt real, honest and they were treated as the special thing they are. I absolutely adored Josie as one of Julian’s closest friends. She was such a great character and good friend. On the other hand, the way losing a friendship was portrayed here, how painful it is and what a great impact it can have, was amazingly written here. Basically everything about the friendships in this story made me feel all the feelings. I loved the parts where friends were being real friends the most – right along with the positive family moments I wanted Julian to have so badly. Every time he had a father-son-moment with his dad, I got all warm, fuzzy and emotional.
Conclusion: Not everyone and everything was perfect here, but the story made me smile and I’d definitely recommend it.