Rainbow rep: a trans boy protagonist (with a “niggling feeling” that he’s not 100% a guy, and an arc towards identifying as a demiboy), an m/m romance with a bi love interest, an all-queer background cast and an exploration of queer community and the ups and downs therein
Content considerations: transphobic language and actions from antagonistic characters, head-on engagement with discrimination within queer circles, subplots about homophobic abuse from parents
Premise: Felix comes to his prestigious art school one morning to find the lobby plastered with a “gallery” of photographs hacked from his Instagram account, all depicting him pre-transition. Felix is sure that this is the work of his ex-friend (and scholarship rival) Declan and is determined to get revenge. Against the advice of his protective best friend Ezra, Felix creates an online persona named Lucky to befriend—and whittle deep dark secrets out of—Declan. But the catfishing scheme goes awry when it transpires that not only is Declan innocent, but he seems to be falling in love with “Lucky”… leaving Felix in the middle of a weird digital love triangle, and with even fewer clues than before.
Some disclosure first: I bought this book mostly to support author Kacen Callender and to spite the crappy, transphobic, poor-taste review that it got on Kirkus. Never let anyone say that spite is a baseless motivation, because I’m so glad that I read this. Felix Ever After is a gorgeous rollercoaster of a novel that caught me in a whirlwind of emotions and left me passed out from pure catharsis. It deals with a lot of harrowing stuff, it looks bigotry right in the eye, but it is above all a hopeful and affirming story about love, happiness, and confidence.
Felix is a wonderful protagonist—flawed, impulsive, brash, full of fuck-you energy and bubbling over with righteous anger, yet also profoundly introverted and unsure of himself. This balance of sometimes contradictory traits makes him a very authentic character, and his narrative voice feels true and distinctive. His desire to fall in love (mixed with a sense of terror at the idea of actually starting a relationship), his confidence in his own identity (mixed with that recurring “niggling feeling” about his gender and the creeping dread that he’s really some kind of fraud), and his defiant creativity (mixed with the certainty that his art, and himself, will never be good enough) all bundle together into a sympathetic mess that I was cheering for along the way. His experiences have been very different to mine, but there was plenty that I found familiar, too (and what wasn’t familiar served as intriguing insights).
Felix is put through the wringer, which makes his happy ending even more gloriously defiant. This is a novel about the radical power of self-love, so Felix did not need a romantic plotline to get his happily ever after. He did not need one, but my gosh, I was only one third of the way through the novel before I was announcing “if Felix doesn’t realise his feelings for his best friend Ezra, who is perfect for him and also the absolute bestest lad in this whole story, and end up running into his arms, my heart is going to break”. I enjoy a lot of YA romances well enough, but it’s rare that I find myself really rooting for them in the way that I did Felix and Ezra. I want to keep these reviews relatively spoiler-free, so I’ll just say that the novel delivered on their “will they or won’t they?” in just about the most satisfying way possible. Do you love mushy romance and Big Moments? Do you love friends-to-lovers? Get this on your plate.
At the heart of all this is Felix’s journey, of course, but it’s wrapped up in a genuinely gripping mystery and tale of online subterfuge. I felt like I was playing Hate Crime Cluedo at times, squinting at Felix’s classmates alongside him trying to figure out which of these people might have it in them to do something so awful. Without spoiling things, I was successfully Red Herring-ed along the way and, while I had my suspicions, the reveal of the true villain of the piece was a satisfying shock.
Again, I refrain from spoilers, but oh boy does this book have some things to say about discriminatory attitudes within the queer community. From the outside looking in, it can often seem like everyone sits comfortably under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella sharing tea and bonding over shared struggles, but this is not the case. There are class disparities to take into account, racism that runs rampant, and the perception that some people are taking up too much of a space perceived to be theirs. And, of course, some people are just bastards, and being queer does not erase that. Felix Ever After looks these intersectional tensions dead in the eye and unpacks how harmful they are in a way I haven’t yet seen in YA. It’s a massively important conversation to have, and the novel weaves it in with the plot in a way that feels seamless and doesn’t take things into Issue Novel territory.
This is An Important Book for a lot of reasons—the nuanced trans representation, the exploration of class, race, and sexuality intersections, and everything in the above paragraph—but it’s also just a really good book that I’d recommend as a top-tier contemporary coming-of-age story. Pride Month is over, but Felix’s tale is evergreen.