Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers on May 3, 2016
Genres: LGBT, Middle Grade
Source: I listened to this audiobook via my TuneIn Premium subscription.
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Author Donna Gephart crafts a dual narrative about two remarkable young people: Lily, a transgender girl, and Dunkin, a boy dealing with bipolar disorder.
Sometimes our hearts see things our eyes can’t.
Lily Jo McGrother, born Timothy McGrother, is a girl. But being a girl is not so easy when you look like a boy. Especially when you’re in the eighth grade.
Dunkin Dorfman, birth name Norbert Dorfman, is dealing with bipolar disorder and has just moved from the New Jersey town he’s called home for the past thirteen years. This would be hard enough, but the fact that he is also hiding from a painful secret makes it even worse.
One summer morning, Lily Jo McGrother meets Dunkin Dorfman, and their lives forever change.
Unpopular opinion time: I really didn’t like Lily and Dunkin. I gave this book a try (even though it’s a transition story written by a cis author) because I’d heard good things about it. I wish I’d set it aside as soon as I started feeling uncomfortable.
Warning: Minor spoilers ahead.
Lily’s transition—her existence, really—centers cis feelings and attitudes, and the author doesn’t differentiate at all between gender expression and gender identity. On more than one occasion, genitals are conflated with gender, instead of just allowing room for people to have different types of bodies. (See this Everyday Feminism article for more info.)
Once Lily confides in Dunkin and tells him that she’s trans, Dunkin’s narrative should have changed. I’m not talking about his dialogue, because this was told in confidence, so it wouldn’t have been right for him to out her to others. But once Dunkin knew about Lily, his narrative should have switched to calling her “Lily.” Instead, he misgenders her by referring to her as “Tim.” Worst of all, this misgendering continues until the end of the book, and doesn’t stop until Lily shows up at the school dance in a dress, wearing makeup. Cis authors, why do you constantly do this? This reinforces the harmful idea that a trans person has to appear a certain way before others will acknowledge that they are “really truly trans.”
Does this fill a gap in middle grade fiction? Certainly not as far as trans protagonists go. Maybe it does for bipolar representation: Dunkin’s story was moving, and I learned a lot. His story was the only reason I kept reading, even though the trans rep frustrated me.
In the author’s note, Gephart shares that she watched a documentary about a trans girl, was moved to tears, and she decided she just had to write about this. Cis authors, no. You actually don’t have to. Dunkin was modeled after Gephart’s son, so at least his portion of the book was based on real life experiences and a meaningful relationships. I honestly feel this book would have been a very good read if Dunkin had been the lone protagonist.