In-the-DesertRating: 4.25 stars
Buy Link:
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Length: Novel

Coming out can be tough—coming out as trans can be even tougher. For Wren, it meant switching schools for his senior year of high school. While it didn’t come close to solving his problems, it was at least a new start with a lot less baggage. Nevertheless, Wren’s friend department was uncomfortably small. His parents stepped in and suggested he join his younger brother’s Boy Scout troop.

For Wren, the idea of having a peer group of all boys, to have that normalcy of being with boys, and just plain old being a boy sounded great. The reality, however, is much more work. Just getting a foot in the door is a huge accomplishment. Rather than being completely ignored, or worse shunned, Wren manages to strike up an amicable talk with Felipe. Bolstered by the overall benevolent indifference and one small olive branch, Wren decides to stick with it. If only his heart weren’t constantly trying to convince his mind that trying for something more than friendship with Felipe is the best idea ever, he just might survive a year in the troop.

Felipe is a hard worker and wants to do his abuela proud—after all, it was his grandmother who raised him and instilled in him the good Catholic values he still mostly believes in. When he meets Wren, however, Felipe slowly realizes that natures of the heart aren’t in lock-step with the teachings of the church. He struggles to make sense of how his feelings for Wren seem to shift from friendship to something more. He’s worried about screwing up a wonderful friendship with the only boy who can put up with Felipe’s nerdy ways, and scared to death of disappointing his abuela. One thing is for sure, though—if he ever works up the courage to ask Wren out, he knows it will be one of the the best things that ever happens to him.

This was a delightful coming-of-age/coming out story. I loved the set up, how Joyce focuses on the facts of Wren’s life rather than making it all about his transition. We see him coping rather well with having to change schools for his senior year, integrating with his loving family, and the deep brotherly connection he has with Chris, his younger brother. The beginning all just made me curious what event happened in the past that made Wren have to change schools—it felt much more subtle and realistic to me to focus the action this way. Once it’s clear on-page that Wren is trans and we see the interactions with his family, and as he goes through the process of making new friends in the troop, we see more of his struggles.

The narration flip-flops between Wren and Felipe, so readers get to follow the action from these two perspectives. In addition to Wren’s reaction to building friendships and interacting with the hoi polloi, we also get to see him interact a lot with his family—primarily his brother and his dad. I liked how that this is not the typical “my family totally rejects me for being me” narrative. His family’s not running out to get him top surgery or even start on T, but they support him and eventually allow the discussion to move onto transitioning with the help of a doctor. In contrast, there is Felipe. He starts the book being just a general nice guy who helps his troop buddies with their homework and is an admitted video game nerd. I feel like we got a closer look at Felipe’s home life and the tight familial bonds he has with his grandmother and his siblings, even if they aren’t on page much. We also follow him as he realizes he is at least bi, if not gay.

Although the story focuses on high school students, there is very little action that takes place in a school setting. The only scenes that come to mind are when Felipe tries to help his friend not flunk out of math class—but they end up discussing their boy scout troop and Felipe’s growing feelings for Wren. This allowed the story to really unfold in between Wren and Felipe in scenes where they are at the boy scouts together, when they are hanging out, and when they eventually start going on dates. I liked seeing teenagers in environments removed from school, I think it made the story more interesting and didn’t rely on the conventions of the school year and stereotypical school drama to drive the action.

I think the most interesting element of the story telling, though, is how the boy scout troop already has a trans boy. Rather than being too convenient, I think it allowed a chance to really explore diversity on the page and in a way that isn’t strictly set up through romantic relationships. I found this to be a delightfully engaging way to promote diversity in a book—this trans supporting character didn’t have to carry the burden of being a romantic lead, so he could provide a mirror and a window into what Joyce sees as one boy’s experience.

If you’re looking for a sweet story about two teenagers finding a supportive relationship and that explores the trans identity (and through two different perspectives), then you would surely like this book.

A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.

camille sig

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