It feels political these days, just to exist. That's especially true if you're a black, transgender, queer teenager on a scholarship at an elite Brooklyn high school for the arts—and in competition for one slot at Brown University. As if adolescence wasn't tricky enough already!
When we meet the eponymous protagonist in Felix Ever After, he has been out as trans for several years and found himself a squad comprising other LGBT youth of ethnic backgrounds mixed up in various ways. (This is set in modern-day New York, after all.) But lest all this sound like too idealized a cast, the propelling mystery of this tightly-written YA novel surrounds who at school is behind a traumatizing transphobic act against Felix. The quest to find out takes us, and Felix, on an emotional roller coaster to explore his own identity and his relationships with his friends at the same time.
And, of course, there's love. "Young love. What else is there to say?" one adult character remarks, halfway through the book. It turns out there's plenty left to say in this rendering, because it is complicated by layers and layers of identity work. Felix's fumbling attempts to figure out what love means and what it's supposed to feel like—while learning he's worthy of it—make for the novel's most anxious and heart-warming bits.
Witnessing a romance come alive as we read text back-and-forth reminds me of the work of Mary H.K Choi and Sally Rooney, and author Kacen Callender deepens a central epistolary relationship deftly, making us feel like we're let in on something so authentic and quietly groundbreaking that we shouldn't be watching.
And what can compete with the intensity of that age—when you're discovering who you really are, finding first love and learning that you're worth it? The emotional journey of young love gives the novel a universal feel, despite the multiple identity labels that make life for Felix so challenging.