Julian Gibson is a transgender high school freshman. He’s always felt that he was a boy, though his body and birth name, Julia, are female. Julian has a dear childhood friend, Aiden, who’s been bullied mercilessly on social media for his perceived homosexuality. Aiden’s turned away from Julian, because Julian’s tomboy appearance makes people think he might be a butch dyke, and that’s unacceptable for Aidan. The loss of Aidan’s friendship is deeply upsetting for Julian.
Julian makes new friends with Maria, a beautiful bisexual girl, and her cousin. Maria’s got a cadre of misfit-type friends and they draw Julian in because Maria’s attracted to Julia(n). As much as Julian would like to date Maria, he feels it would be dishonest to do so without confessing that he’s really a boy—even if it means losing Maria and his new friends.
Julian decides that he needs to come out as trans because he wants to be seen as he is, but also because physiology is getting in the way. He’s developing breasts and having his period, and he really can’t handle it anymore. He has a really great relationship with his father, a city councilman for Toronto, and fears coming out will change everything. Thing is, Julian’s life is already changing and he recognizes that he’s got to speak soon, or lose more time in a body that’s betraying him. He vows to tell three people before Christmas—in a convoluted scheme to link these revelations to a series of Secret Santa parties. Along the way, he and Maria get closer, he messes up big time in school, and he’s under extreme pressure to come out to his parents before the new year.
I like this story for teens and questioning persons. For myself, and I’ve read a few trans kids coming out stories this year, I felt the pace was slow and the plan to come out overly complicated. The metaphor of the myth of Santa versus being honest about one’s self seemed stretch I wasn’t able to follow, but the slightly jaded teen characters read as real and had age-appropriate conversations and activities. It’s mostly innocent with one drug reference and one scene where Julian and Maria briefly have the opportunity to explore one another physically, though it’s not too graphic. I felt a strong connection to Julian, and understood that he never felt that he was a girl. Nor did he feel he was a lesbian. He felt he was a (mostly) straight boy attracted (mostly) to girls—despite having a female body. This was a really interesting viewpoint, and I appreciated Julian’s difficulties with expressing this to his peers, parents, and teachers. Some guess. Some don’t. Julian’s new friends, including Maria, are especially generous. They give great advice and are extremely supportive. The book is affirming, with positive moments that will be appreciated by queer/trans readers. There’s also a lot of references to authors and musicians that produce queer-friendly/trans-friendly works, especially sci-fi stories, which is a valuable resource for interested people to explore.
I did like the book, even though I felt it was unnecessarily long and the plot overly complicated. Julian is a good character to grow with, and the resolution of his coming out dilemma took more good than bad turns. The book felt very thorough in scope. Julian’s experiences might be more “true” in Canadian society than the US or UK, as there are likely to be regional differences in the reality of trans treatment from a society/institutions standpoint. Organically and emotionally, however, Julian felt very approachable. This is a book written for a YA audience, and it hit all those marks for me.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.