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Golden Boy
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Book of the Month > October 2016 BotM - LBTQ+ #2- Golden Boy (note trigger warnings)

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Kaje Harper | 16569 comments The Oct 2016 Book of the Month with LBTQ+ main characters #2 (because we had a virtual tie) is Golden Boy Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin by Abigail Tarttelin

Please note content trigger warnings for (view spoiler).

This is the place to discuss the book or related topics and post reviews. You may comment at any time from today onward, at your own pace. This thread may therefore contain spoilers, so if you haven't read the book yet, proceed at your own risk.

One option you may choose in commenting is putting discussion of major spoilers into a tag (view spoiler) - this is helpful for those who have not finished the book, although it is not required. To do this put <*spoiler> before the material you wish to hide, and <*/spoiler> afterward, but with the asterisks removed.

I look forward to discussing this book with the group.


Bobby (bobbery) I noticed nobody was talking about this book and just wanted to put in a plug for it (I read it in July right before reading Symptoms of Being Human) because I thought it was really good. It was the first book I'd ever read with an intersex character so it was really educational, but it was also really emotionally affecting just as a story.

Also, though the trigger warnings are obviously there for a reason, I'd like to note that these are unfortunately also common themes in a lot of LGBT YA books, and I personally think that this book handled it a lot better than some others (looking at you, Symptoms).


Kaje Harper | 16569 comments Thanks for the info - I really, really want to get to this one. ... just bought it in ebook, so now I will read it soon. :)


Kaje Harper | 16569 comments I finally read this book - my review

There are still not very many books out with intersex main characters - this one impressed me for its ability to engage my emotions with the MC, tell a story that I wanted to discover, and inform me about the biological basis of intersex development. That's a challenging mix, and this book did an admirable (if necessarily imperfect) job.

Max Walker is, on the surface, the perfect teen - athletic, smart, kind, popular, easygoing. But part of Max's perfection is deliberate, a persona created because underneath, he's not quite sure he's good enough. Max is intersex, with male and female characteristics, and he's been aware for a long time that the fact of his uncommon gender is a stress within the family and a secret to be hidden. His father has political aspirations, his mother has a high-prestige job. Max is trying hard to be the son they need him to be. But one traumatic event sets the avalanche rolling, that will force all of them to look at the issues they've been determinedly ignoring.

The book gives us many points of view, beginning with Max's 9-year-old brother, Daniel. This is worth knowing, since I wasn't paying attention to names in the blurb. Daniel is probably Asperger's, and his opening POV reflects this unemotional pre-teen view, which I was a bit relieved to find was not the primary MC's. (Not that an intersex kid couldn't be Asperger's too, but that would have been a lot to combine in an MC.) We also see the story unfold from the POVs of Max's mother, father, girlfriend and doctor.

On the one hand, this does give the reader both more information (especially when the doctor is getting herself up to speed on the medical end) and some sympathy for the range of characters dealing with the implications of Max's gender. On the other, Max's POV is by far the most emotionally resonant, and each POV shift pulled my involvement in the story back a bit. Education is important, and I admire the effort to mix it in, while still wishing the parents had been a bit less cool and more sympathetic characters, to maintain the emotions better.

There is an on-page rape very early in this story. It's handled well, neither lightly not angstily. Max has both male and female genitalia, and the rape sets up the crisis as he has to deal with - not just the trauma of assault by someone he trusted, but also the implications of his particular biology and body and emotions and future. His parents have been very reluctant to talk to him about his medical history or his options. At the same time, Max is also dealing with the typical 16 year old issues of dating and school and girlfriends. He has already been backing off when girls get too interested, to avoid exposing his physical secrets. So the result is a crisis of self-doubt and difficult decisions.

I encourage readers with an interest in LGBTQIAPP young adult books to try this one, unless rape or self harm is a trigger for you. Well done.


Kaje Harper | 16569 comments I've found audio that's well done does intensify the emotions. I hope you find a good time to finish it though. The end is positive.


Rainbowheart | 715 comments This is way late, but I like the book a lot. Pretty much read as YA to me although I suppose having additional POVs like the mom and the doctor threw it into the adult fiction category.


Kaje Harper | 16569 comments I'd consider it YA.


Rainbowheart | 715 comments They should do a cross-publication with a YA imprint, because I feel like it would be well received as YA, for sure.

We definitely need more intersex representation in YA. There's a handful of books (nothing to sneeze at), but we could always use more, especially #ownvoices.


Kaje Harper | 16569 comments Yes, indeed. This would be older YA, for the assault, but I think it's well within the purview of YA, and well done.


Iamshadow | 334 comments Well, this was... intense. I'm really, really glad I was forewarned about the rape, but then it just kept getting more and more intense. I kept waiting for a point in the story to breathe, and not getting one. I mean, it was a good story, but the author just seemed to want to pile on the drama with a shovel, and I wanted some quiet moments where the characters could just settle for a moment. I'd contrast it with Cameron Post, a book with similarly intense subject matter, but you get lots of little moments of humour, bonding, and independent thought. Golden Boy, it just felt like everyone was driven along by The Story, and the characterisation suffered. It didn't help that having so many points of view meant you never got to know any of them well. I think maybe it would have worked better had the author just chosen to follow Max or Sylvie or both and dropped the doctor, parents, and maybe the brother back to characters they interacted with rather than POV characters. Either that, or sold this as a television or movie script instead, which is what it feels like, more than a book.


message 11: by Kaje (last edited Jul 25, 2019 08:23AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kaje Harper | 16569 comments It is an intense read - I wonder a bit whether it was partly because it was written 6 years ago. Not sure if that's long enough that here was an urgency to get the story out and make an impact that perhaps has faded slightly, as a wider range of books appear, leaving more room for the craft of the story without quite the same all-encompassing weight of the message?


Iamshadow | 334 comments Kaje wrote: "It is an intense read - I wonder a bit whether it was partly because it was written 6 years ago. Not sure if that's long enough that here was an urgency to get the story out and make an impact that..."

Yeah, I don't know. One of the other reviewers said that she felt that the writing was solid but it needed a stronger editor who'd get the author to redraft it a few more times and get it all to work together, and I can see what they mean.

I know what it's like to have a Story with a capital S inside you wanting to get out and a Plot dictating all the action, but sometimes that needs reigning in a bit. Since this is a spoiler thread, I'll lay it out - you have the rape, the pregnancy, the weird altercation between Max and Sylvie where she pumps him for detail then has a meltdown over it, the multiple run-ins with the rapist, the parents finding out, the push for complete sterilisation, the mother essentially medically raping Max AGAIN by ignoring his withdrawal of consent, the separation of his parents which he is left to feel is all his own fault for existing, the suicide attempt, the breaking of doctor confidentiality that led to the outing of the rape without his consent AGAIN... all against the heightened backdrop of the father running for politics. Throw in the weird creepy meeting with the 'specialist' in London, a whole bunch of intersexphobia, biphobia, gender binary hysteria and, y'know, not telling your kid ANYTHING about himself and treating it like a dirty secret and being surprised when it all goes to pot, that is a LOT of drama for so few pages.

I hated the mother. I had to imagine a future where Max gets good therapy and realises what a toxic, biphobic, homophobic, intersexphobic hag she is and how her loathing of his very make-up made him insecure and vulnerable. There's a hint he might realise a fraction of it towards the end, but it wasn't enough for me. I think in ten years Max might have grown strong enough to reclaim his anger about the forced abortion. I think he might realise, if and when he has other kids of his own, that she's not someone he wants around them, moulding and shaping them with her bigotry. I would have liked more catharsis for so much tension, consent violation and pain, and I didn't get it without inventing it myself. That tells me that it needed something more. The ending with the fucking field with the flowers felt as tacked on as JKR's epilogue.


message 13: by Kaje (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kaje Harper | 16569 comments Yes, it was really heavy and I agree a good editor would have helped. I wish more YA books did get the kids some therapy, and actually that's a positive trend I feel like I'm seeing over the past decade where kids dealing with really heavy stuff aren't just left to get over it without help.


Iamshadow | 334 comments Kaje wrote: "Yes, it was really heavy and I agree a good editor would have helped. I wish more YA books did get the kids some therapy, and actually that's a positive trend I feel like I'm seeing over the past d..."

Sorry to dump on you, the book was good in so many ways, it just made me SO MAD that the story was constructed so that there was nothing and no one that was safe for this kid, and that suicide was shown as a natural response to that. And then even the doctor he bonded with disclosed his rape to the non custodial parent who wanted to sterilise him to make him 'normal', to reassure her, 'no, he's normal, he likes girls, ONLY girls'. Ugh. So much homophobia, biphobia, gender binary nonsense in just that one scene. Not a single character with any real page time respected his boundaries or consent except maybe the brother. Everyone justified violating that consent 'for his own good' - his rapist, his mother, his girlfriend, his doctor. And as an abuse survivour, the minimising of those less physical violations as caring and normal makes me angrier than the rape did, because at least that was unequivocally portrayed as violating and wrong.


message 15: by Kaje (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kaje Harper | 16569 comments That's something I look for in books, a conscious revelation of the fact that there is such power in "non-violent" violations, in denying someone safety or autonomy "out of love". That idea of "for your own good" has been used against LGBTQ kids so extensively, and then treated as if that excuses what was done.


Iamshadow | 334 comments Kaje wrote: "That's something I look for in books, a conscious revelation of the fact that there is such power in "non-violent" violations, in denying someone safety or autonomy "out of love". That idea of "for..."

Yeah. In Cameron Post, there's continuous acknowledgement by Cameron internally, but also covertly with Jane and Adam, about how fucked up everything is. They might be submitting to the program because they love their families, but inside, they're screaming. I don't think a character needs to know that what is happening to them is abusive - Tess of the D'urbervilles is a great example of this kind of victim-unknowing - but the READER should be in no doubt that it's awful. I don't think Golden Boy quite reinforced that enough with the other breaches of consent. I saw it, because I have done SO MUCH WORK to learn how to see it and advocate for myself. I wonder how readers without an abuse background would see the text, because I can't see it any other way.


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