Christina (A Reader of Fictions)'s Reviews > Golden Boy

Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin
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it was amazing
bookshelves: audiobook, favorites-contemps, favorites-audio, quiltbag, right-in-the-feels, needs-more-hype, finishedreviewcopy, on-my-shelves
Recommended to Christina (A Reader of Fictions) by: Jenni Arndt

This is one of those times where I'm incredibly glad that I'm a book blogger. You see, were I not blogging, I would not have the reader friends I do, and I would miss out on books like Golden Boy. I never would have picked this up in the store, because the cover is weird and doesn't really convey the subject matter. Thankfully, a couple days after I got an email with Golden Boy as one of the audiobooks available for review, my dear friend Jenni of Alluring Reads told me that she felt certain I would love this book. Jenni was right.

This cover is a strange one, and, once I knew what the book was about, I can see what they're doing, subtly calling out the gender issues with the two bikes, one intended for males and one for females. Why moving a bar from straight to slanted suddenly makes a bike girly or changes it in any practical way, I can't say. Still, I do think it's a shame there's nothing on the cover to speak to the subject matter, because I seek out books about different sorts of sexuality/gender and would have missed this.

Golden Boy tells the story of Max, a handsome boy who seems perfect in every respect, popular, athletic and intelligent. Max has a secret, though: he's not actually a boy. Nor is he a girl. Max is intersex, the new politically correct term that replaced hermaphrodite. Because Max has both a penis and a vagina, he's avoided serious relationships, though he has developed a reputation because he makes out with a lot of different girls. His being intersex didn't really impact his life.

Until it did. At a family party, Hunter, Max's best friend growing up, rapes Max. The scene is rather graphic and intensely emotional. Max has always felt like a boy, and not really questioned that. With this incident, Max has to truly face that he's not a regular boy, and, in the fallout, so does his family. What follows is an honest, beautiful, heart-wrenching look at Max's journey to become comfortable with who he is and to decide who he wants to be as an adult.

The subject matter in Golden Boy is quite dark and unflinching at times. The discussion of the issues of being intersex is frank and honest. However, Tarttelin makes the brilliant storytelling move of including more than just Max's perspective, which cuts on the melodrama. She does six separate perspectives: Max, his family (mother, father, little brother), his girlfriend Sylvie, and his doctor Archie (a woman). Since I listened to the audiobook, I can't say how individual they felt in print, but in the audiobook they were all brilliantly performed, with a narrator for each perspective.

In some books with multiple perspectives, characters are added for no discernible reason at all, not adding anything to the narrative, or particular perspectives are incredibly boring, to be suffered through while the reader waits impatiently for the main character to return. Not so with Golden Boy. Each perspective brought something to the table, even Max's father's, which only appears twice. Max is so confused and lost and depressed that it's wonderful to see him from an outside perspective. Daniel, for instance, hero-worships his brother. Sylvie thinks he's hot. Neither of them know, of course, but we get a true look at the golden boy. Then there's his parents, who love him and do the best they can, but, through their perspectives, the reader really gets a sense of how uncomfortable they are with his intersexuality now that it's known he's actually of age for sex.

Archie's point of view adds a whole other dimension. As a doctor, when Max comes in, he really lights a fire in her when she realizes how little she knows about being intersex. Her medical schooling included almost nothing on the subject. She begins to really research, because she very much wants to help Max, who comes to her office the day after his rape for a morning after pill. Archie's perspective really drives home how little attention the medical community is paying to such gender issues and how much they push to "normalize" with surgery.

Since there's a lot I would spoil if I went any more into the plot, I'm going to speak in general terms. The way Tarttelin wrapped everything up is incredibly touching and what convinced me this book deserved the full five stars. Some of the choices Tarttelin made surprised me, but they were just right. I'll leave it at that.

If you're going to read this book, which I really think you should, the audiobook is an excellent choice. With six talented narrators giving voice to the six perspectives, there's a strong sense of voice. The narrators for Max and Sylvie are particularly compelling. I've listened to quite a few full cast narrations, but this one is I think the best I've read so far.

LGBT (I know this doesn't cover everything, but the term QUILTBAG looks a bit silly - I intend this as all-encompassing) issues have not been covered nearly enough in fiction and I love Golden Boy merely for existing. However, Golden Boy is not just wonderful for covering a tricky, sensitive topic, but for doing so with heart, honesty and compassion. Abigail Tarttelin, welcome to my auto-read list.
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Reading Progress

May 4, 2013 – Shelved
May 4, 2013 – Shelved as: to-read
May 4, 2013 – Shelved as: audio-up-next
June 7, 2013 – Started Reading
June 7, 2013 – Shelved as: audiobook
June 13, 2013 – Shelved as: favorites-contemps
June 13, 2013 – Finished Reading
August 7, 2013 – Shelved as: favorites-audio
September 5, 2013 – Shelved as: quiltbag
September 5, 2013 – Shelved as: right-in-the-feels
October 14, 2013 – Shelved as: needs-more-hype
November 12, 2013 – Shelved as: finishedreviewcopy
November 16, 2013 – Shelved as: on-my-shelves

Comments Showing 1-9 of 9 (9 new)

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Terrell Brown Five stars? Sweet can't wait to read it

Christina (A Reader of Fictions) DO IT, TERRELL. I have a giveaway going up tomorrow btw. I think you'll LOVE it.

Jenni Arndt Yes! Fabulous review Christina! I loved the addition of Archie's perspective so much too. I felt like I definitely learned a thing or two reading this, a very eye opening experience indeed.

Christina (A Reader of Fictions) Agreed. Aside from Middlesex, this isn't a subject I've seen covered at all, and that book would be really intimidating to a younger reader. Plus, this one has the addition of multiple perspectives, which is fabulous.

message 5: by Ellis (new) - added it

Ellis Wow, this sounds very emotional and definitely worth the read!

David - proud Gleeman in Branwen's adventuring party Awesome review, Ms. Reader of Fictions! :D

message 8: by Leah (new)

Leah Fantastic review, Christina. Can I gush here? I loved this novel so damn much. It runs circles around Middlesex. IMO, Eugenides didn't really get into the headspace of someone who's torn between worlds and identities, but Tarttelin did. (Also Eugenides has said some gross stuff so fuck him.)

I'm genderqueer (not intersex, but someone who doesn't identify internally as woman or man--similar to Max's internal identity, minus physical stuff), and Tarttelin's voice rang so much more genuine and real to me. I love that she never--oh wait this is spoily: (view spoiler)

And the bicycle cover kills me. There are so many amazing cover possibilities with an intersex narrator, and they chose...gendered bicycles? Sigh. Atria.

But yeah. I hope Tarttelin's got something progressive and amazing coming up next, because she's an auto-buy author for me now, too.

Christina (A Reader of Fictions) Awwww, I loved Middlesex, but I also read that when I was in between high school and college, so that doesn't really mean anything for current me. However, obviously I think Tarttelin did amazing and heart-shattering things with Golden Boy, and yes I will always gush about it!

It's been a while, and I do not have the same lens on things that you do, but I love hearing your take on it. This is one of those cases (along with None of the Above) where I was really learning a lot from fiction, because I know woefully little. Max had a really great evolution, and it was so interesting to watch him evolve through the different perspectives. The way everyone else has opinions about what a person "should" be really make everything so much harder.

The bicycle cover is just the worst. I have so much trouble trying to force people to pick up this book because they're like wtf is this about a bicycle?

Have you read Flick? It doesn't really sound like it's my kind of book, but it could be if it's done RIGHT (which is why I try so much stuff that I'm semi-skeptical of - ever hopeful). I would love to see her do more LGBT+ stuff.

(To this day, I've never read a book with a more upsetting opening than this book. It was especially brutal on audio.)

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