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 meaningful relationships. I honestly feel this book would have been a very good read if Dunkin had been the lone protagonist.