I’ll give this book credit for getting me out of my reading slump that I fell into at the beginning of the year. I read Felix Ever After in a day! Kacen Callender made me feel very invested in Felix’s story. Though I wouldn’t call this a “light” YA read by any stretch of the imagination, there is a lot in here that is humourous to balance out the more serious parts. In particular, Callender creates a memorable, believable voice for our eponymous narrator.
Felix is a 17-year-old trans kid living in New York City, going to a private art school and hoping to get into Brown. Except he spends more time pondering his lack of a relationship than actually working on his portfolio. Oh, and even though Felix knows he definitely isn’t a girl, he isn’t entirely sure the binary idea of “boy” fits him either. With his mother out of the picture and his father supportive materially but not always emotionally, this leaves Felix adrift and vulnerable. Not to mention that someone cracked into his Instagram, found photos of him pre-transition, and plastered them along with his deadname all over a school hallway.
If it sounds like there’s a lot of moving parts to this novel, that’s because there is! I didn’t even mention Felix’s gay best friend, whom everyone mistakes as his boyfriend, or Felix’s nemesis. Rather than getting lost in the forest of details here, I’ll discuss how Felix Ever After made me feel.
I can’t review this book as an own-voices reviewer, because I am white and transfemme rather than transmasc, so Felix and I don’t have much in common beyond being transgender in some way. I laughed a little when he says he figured out his identity “late” compared to others (we’ve just passed a year since I realized, at 30, that I am trans). Nevertheless, I felt for Felix so much, and some of the aspects of the book that dealt with Felix’s transness resonated for me—and even made me anxious, at points! Perhaps that’s why I wanted to finish it in a day: if I allowed the book to linger unresolved beyond that, my anxiety might worsen.
See, what this book captures, and something I have had to reckon with for the past year now, is that when you are visibly trans or out, you are always aware of this, and it is always on your mind. This is not a consequence of being trans, mind you, but a consequence of how our society others transgender people. When I go out, I’m thinking about how people will read me. Will they use the right pronouns for me? Will they misgender me entirely? Who will be a Marisol, outwardly using the correct pronouns but inwardly never truly accepting my gender because it doesn’t conform to her rigid, essentialist version of feminism? (As an aside, I want to add that Callender does a great job portraying young people as simultaneously aware of social issues yet also tentative in that their understanding and ability to have viable discussions about those issues is still developing.)
This constant awareness is exhausting and is itself a form of microagression society foists upon marginalized people.
There were times when Felix really annoyed me. He is so immature in some ways, so flawed—it’s great. Callender creates a voice for him that is agonizing without being stereotypically angsty, if you know what I mean. His self-doubt and his perceptions are not wrong or unrealistic, but from my perspective as an adult, they feel outsized. And that, I think, is as it should be: Callender captures the raw emotions that wash through teenage minds without verging into melodrama.
I will also say that there are moments of incredible sweetness in this book. In particular, there is a lot of tenderness and intimacy between boys. Some of this has sexual/romantic overtones, yes, but in other respects it is more platonic—and in any case, this is way, way needed in our literature. Men and boys of any sexuality need to know it is ok to cuddle, to be cuddled, to hold and to be held, provided it’s what you want and consensual. This is a book where aggression and conflict abound yet do not manifest as toxic masculinity.
In the end, some of the pieces didn’t quite fit in their places for me. I wasn’t a huge fan of the solution to the identity of Felix’s transphobic bully. The resolution of the love triangle is messy and rushed, though maybe that’s actually more realistic than I am willing to give credit for! Regardless, these are minor quibbles against the overwhelming balance of evidence that this is a wonderful, well-written novel. Trans teens, especially trans masc kids and demiboys, will see themselves in this. Cis readers will get a chance to live in the mind of a trans teen and see what that can be like. Felix Ever After is diverse in its representation and deep in its characterization.