Title: Golden Boy
Author: Abigail Tarttelin
Length: 408 pages
Rating: 5 Stars
Max is the perfect son, the perfect friend and the perfect crush for the girls at his school. He’s attractive, he’s intelligent, he’s athletic.
He’s even nice to his little brother. Max is going to make his parents proud. But if his secret gets out, his perfect life will be blown apart. The consequences are unimaginable. But someone knows his secret, someone close to him. And that person must not be trusted because he could do great damage to Max. In fact he’s already started.
“It takes strength to be proud of yourself and to accept yourself when you know that you have something out of the ordinary about you.”
I got this book around… several years ago because I knew it was LGBTQIA+… and I picked it up yesterday because I was somewhat blocked with The Bone Witch…
Seeing as I’m trying to review more diverse books, I am going to touch down on the diversity in this one.
Golden Boy deals with an intersex kid called Max. Max identifies a boy because he’s been raised as a boy, despite the gender neutral name. His mom and dad are sort of the distant type of parents who are career driven but still come across as very caring. I mistrusted this because I didn’t know whether it was #ownvoices or not, but since I searched for intersex reviews and found a good one, I went on ahead and continued reading.
Trigger Warning: There is a rape scene told from the victim Max’s point of view and it happens very early on and it’s committed by Max’s best friend Hunter. Also: there is quite a lot of mention of vomiting as well as a suicide attempt very later in the book.
Due to this scene, a lot of other reviewers on GR thought that the book was melodramatic. I thought the usage of this word was unfair. I didn’t think this book was melodramatic BECAUSE of the r*pe, it was simply filled with confusion because this boy, who never even got the chance to learn more about the way he was, had his life totally disturbed by this heinous act. Max reacts in a troubling manner: he doesn’t even call it as it is, mostly because (I felt,) Hunter was his best friend. As you would see from the blurb, Max is quite the good kid and for this to happen to him, it was extremely traumatizing. Besides that, Max has always felt some way about being intersex but not negatively.
The book deals a lot with how the family handles an issue that rises and how Max reacts to the crime committed against him. I felt like the way Tarttelin dealt with this issue was very smart. The book is quick paced but it might feel like it’s slow since it’s over 400 pages (barely) and has multiple points of views. I personally can’t speak on whether this representation of an intersex youth is correct or not so I’ll link to a review I found below. What I did enjoy in this was that I actually got educated. Some reviewers were bored by the Wikipedia voice that one point of view, belonging to Archie Verma, but I liked it. It showed a view outside of the family besides Sylvie’s point of view. I googled some about intersexuality but I really didn’t need to since the author seemed to have researched it and managed to clear things up.
I felt like this book is a great book for teenagers to read because it deals with the theme of how we grow up trying to satisfy our parents especially when it comes to school and especially if we have a lot of expectations. Max grew up special, not just because of the fact that he was intersex but also because he had a younger brother who looked up to him.
I liked Daniel. I know, many say he sounds like a 25 year old, but really, can’t we admit that 10 year olds are not oblivious? This kid was raised by lawyers and seemed very curious. He did behave like a kid at times and I’ve read other books where kids were smart. Don’t underestimate kids, everyone.
Karen and Steve, the parents, were cool characters. I like how involved they were even when they seemed like they were ever so distant. There were some instances where I just wanted to rip Karen a new one but I took deep breaths and tried to see things from her perspective. I still want to rip her a new one but not out of hate. I don’t know how to explain it but the relationship she had with Max was somewhat confusing to me but not in a sense that the author made it confusing, rather it’s because Karen tried so hard to be a good mother but that didn’t stop her from being a controlling mother who took Max’s agency away at some point.
At the heart of this is Max and I reallllly liked Max’s voice. He might sound very inconsistent to some people but to me he sounded like a confused teenager and that was what he was. He was so torn up at some parts that I couldn’t help but feel so bad for him. But Max gets a happy ending, in case anyone is worried about that.
(I honestly don’t believe telling you that this book ends on a positive note is a spoiler seeing as unhappy endings could actually harm people…)
Also: there’s some diversity in this one. Dr. Verma is Indian, as she mentions that she moved to London from Delhi. Also: Sylvie, the love interest, is half Egyptian and mentioned to have brown skin.
Sylvie as a character was very interesting too. I liked her chemistry with Max and the way she saw Max was so lovely and made me smile a lot. Sylvie also has a history with panic attacks and she mentions keeping a brown bag on her in case she got one at unexpected times. There was an instance where Max told her some things that did make her go into a panic attack, actually. Sylvie and Max made a cute couple, truly, and although there was a bit where Sylvie thought unkindly of girls who played sports, she didn’t repeat that offense so I don’t believe she’s problematic as a character. She’s very good to Max and actually helped him a lot. I believed that if we got more of Sylvie, we’d maybe see her identify as pansexual.
The whole thing kind of surprisingly appealed to me. I liked how Max changed before my eyes on the page. It felt real. I know a lot of people liked this book but in case anyone thinks it’s problematic, send me a message and I’ll alter my review.
If you have an intersex review of this book, link me in the comments.
For now, here’s the review I found, which is from 2014.