Happy Friday, everyone! (Or happy whatever-other-day-you’re-reading-this-on!)
As you can tell, I finally jumped on the bandwagon and read Felix Ever After 😊 And let me just say: In opinion, the hype surrounding this book is 100% justified. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and found Felix’s perspective to be really new and refreshing. I’ve read very few books with transgender characters so far – and only one other book with a trans protagonist – so I was really happy to see how well the representation was handled here! And it wasn’t just Felix – all the characters were nuanced and multidimensional, and by the time the book ended, I was extremely invested in their stories. I highly, highly recommend this one!
Before we get into more of my thoughts – which will be spoiler-free, so you’re fine if you haven’t read this yet 😉 – here is a bit of background information about the book itself:
SOME BASIC INFO:
Title: Felix Ever After
Author: Kacen Callender
Genre: YA contemporary
Publication Date: May 5, 2020
Date Read: July 10 – July 11, 2020
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
From Stonewall and Lambda Award–winning author Kacen Callender comes a revelatory YA novel about a transgender teen grappling with identity and self-discovery while falling in love for the first time.
Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.
When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle….
But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.
Felix Ever After is an honest and layered story about identity, falling in love, and recognizing the love you deserve.
Like I said, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I’m glad I finally decided to pick it up! Technically, I should probably be focusing on studying for finals right now (I had two this week and have two more next week), but since one of my classes is on current US and UK politics and there are lots of things going on right now that concern transgender rights (like the US Supreme Court vote on June 15th, the debate about Gender Recognition Certificates in the UK, or J.K. Rowling’s controversial tweets and essay), I justified my reading this as “research”. That counts, right? Plus, it was some of the most enjoyable research I’ve done in a while.
As per usual, I’ll be focusing on the categories writing, characters, and plot for this review, and give you some of my more detailed opinions. So sit back and enjoy!
The writing suited this story perfectly. It is told in first-person present tense, and from page one, I immediately felt immersed in Felix’s life and thoughts. A large part of that is due to how well Kacen Callender manages to capture Felix’s voice. His personality really shines through in the narration, and I love when books do that! Felix’s voice felt completely authentic, and I never once doubted that I was in the head of a teenage boy.
Another thing that was done really well was the dialogue. Like Felix’s voice, everything about it felt absolutely real. Plus, since the story is told from Felix’s perspective, it was nice to see what other characters were actually saying, so that you could form your own ideas as to what their intentions were. This was especially interesting since Felix is a very stubborn character – once he has set his mind on something, he often becomes completely blind to other possibilities. Many times, this led to my opinions clashing with Felix’s, which was really interesting and also gave great opportunities for character development. And Kacen Callender certainly made use of those. Throughout the novel, Felix starts to question things more and more: who he is, who his friends are, what is going on behind the scenes in other people’s lives. He goes from being very judgmental to no longer seeing things in such a black and white manner, and this development was handled extremely well and organically.
The only writing related thing I wasn’t the biggest fan of was that I thought that a few parts of the book, especially during the first half, bordered on being a bit too pop culture dependent for my taste – like tons of references to Harry Potter, certain songs, or artists. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with having references like that, and they can help ground a book’s setting in our time period and make it feel more authentic. Personally, though, I prefer the references to be a bit more sparse, or I’ll start to get the feeling that the author is trying to shove into my face how well acquainted they are with what’s currently in with teenagers. I didn’t think this book was at that point yet, and the references definitely didn’t bother me like they did in Becky Albertalli’s The Upside of Unrequited, but they were something I noticed. I feel like I did such a bad job explaining my issues with this… I know this is such a weird pet peeve to have, so if you can relate, let me know!
The characters were probably my favorite part of the book. They all felt so real, they were complicated, they made stupid but understandable decisions. I loved them!
I’ve already talked a little bit about Felix and how well I think his character development was done. I appreciated that on so many levels! However, the thing I found most interesting were Felix’s struggles with his gender identity. Never having questioned mine, this gave me a lot more insight into what it feels like to be trans, and how different individual transgender people’s experiences can be. You can tell that this book is own-voices and that the author did a lot of additional research. Felix’s experience is definitely unique, also within the trans community, and never once did I feel like he was a stereotype inserted for more diversity (which, unfortunately, does happen quite often in literature). His experience felt real, raw, and complicated, and I loved getting to see part of his journey.
There was, however, so much more to Felix. His relationships to his friends. His dreams of going to Brown University. His struggles with school. His artwork. His love for Captain, the stray cat that wormed her way into Felix’s family’s home and hearts. His relationships to his parents and the way their divorce affected him. I particularly loved how the relationship between Felix and his dad was explored. Felix’s dad, who stuck by him through his transition, paid for all the surgeries and hormone treatments, but can’t bring himself to say Felix’s name. Felix’s dad, who wants Felix to keep his pre-transition pictures as memories and says that part of him will always think of Felix as ‘his little girl’. This relationship was so complicated and full of nuance, and I truly appreciated that.
I also loved getting to know Felix’s friends. First, Ezra! I loved him, and I related to him so much. He is the type of best friend everyone should have – who has your back no matter what, and who is there for you when you need someone to talk. Sometimes, Ezra almost too readily agreed with Felix, but that, too, felt real. Sometimes, we can be blind to our friends’ faults, or may just not want to confront them. Ezra, too, grew a lot during this story, and he is one of my favorite characters in it.
Then, there’s Leah, who I also adored. Her friendship with Felix starts to really develop during this book, which means we, too, get to know her better as Felix does. And she is so cool! She is a nerd, and unapologetic about it, and she stands up for what she thinks is right, even when it means confronting her friends. I might even like Leah a bit more than Ezra, honestly…
The last character I want to talk about here is Declan. Don’t get me wrong – I also have a bunch of thoughts concerning James, Marisol, Austin, and Felix’s mom, but those all stray dangerously close to spoiler territory… But regarding Declan, I feel as though I can at least say a little bit without giving too much away. When he is first introduced, it is immediately apparent that his relationship with Felix and Ezra is extremely complicated, so obviously, I was very intrigued as to why that was. And I loved figuring out more and more about his backstory along the way! He was a good reminder that we can never really know what is going on in other people’s lives and what they struggle with. It was so nice to see the more private side of him and learn the reasons behind his actions 😊
I’m not going to say much here, because I think the goodreads summary and the things I hinted at in the earlier sections should already give you a pretty good idea of what this story is about. And, obviously, I can’t go into too much detail without spoiling anything.
However, one thing that I haven’t really touched upon yet is how big a role art plays in this book. Felix and his friends attend a private arts school, and it’s Felix biggest dream to continue studying art at college. He loves to paint, but also fears he isn’t good enough. He’s constantly comparing himself to others, not even realizing that his fellow students eye his work in much the same way. He worries that he won’t be able to get a scholarship, and his fear of failure is so crippling that he hasn’t even started the portfolio he’ll need for university applications. Now, I’m not super into art, but those feelings really resonated with me, and will probably resonate with anyone who has ever been truly passionate about something. Plus, I thought the way the author described the paintings and other art in this book was mesmerizing, a piece of art in itself. I had such vivid pictures in my mind and fell in love with some of the paintings without ever having seen them. (And can we just talk about how cool Jill – Felix’s acrylics teacher – is?)
Other than that, I’m just going to mention again how well the book explored themes like identity, friendship, family and even love. It was never black and white; everything was complicated and messy, and I appreciated that so much! This book is very much a coming of age novel, and it did such a good job with that! Okay, maybe all the late nights out and parties weren’t exactly my type of scene… But I still really appreciated them and getting to see a world different from mine. This is exactly why I love reading so much!
Anyway, that’s it for now! If you’ve read Felix Ever After, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments 😊 Do you agree or disagree with anything I mentioned? Who was your favorite character?
And to everyone else: I’d really recommend this one if you’re looking for a good diverse YA contemporary!