Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
Balzer + Bray an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 2020
Felix Love is a talented seventeen-year-old artist with a scholarship to St. Catherine’s, a prestigious private high school in New York City, but life is not easy. He has been through a lot over the past several years, from transitioning, to losing his mom, to more recent gender questioning and lots of confusion. For starters, Felix’s mom isn’t dead. Seven years ago, when Felix was ten, she divorced his dad, changed her name, remarried, and moved to Florida with her new husband and stepdaughter never looking back. Five years ago, when Felix was twelve, he emailed his mom telling her that he was trans, and she never responded. They have not spoken or texted since, though Felix has 473 unsent emails addressed to her in his email drafts folder. Felix’s dad is loving and kind, but it’s not cool that he still has trouble saying the name Felix out loud, and often slips up using wrong pronouns not bothering to correct himself. Felix’s dad did pay for his top surgery though, and Felix knows deep down that his dad truly loves and cares about him.
Felix feels ready for the next step – college – but his grades are not stellar, and his dad isn’t rich, so he hopes to get a scholarship to attend college. St. Catherine’s summer art program offers extra credit, a chance to boost Felix’s art portfolio, and possibly will even give Felix a shot at getting a scholarship to his preferred Ivy League college, Brown.
Felix’s life is tough and complicated in other ways too. Felix Love has never been in love, and desperately wants to know what it’s like. He also questions whether he is even worthy of respect and love. While extremely proud of his new identity, Felix fears that he’s one marginalization too many – Black, queer, and transgender – to ever find his happily-ever-after. There is another problem too. Someone in the summer art program created a gallery in the school lobby, where student art installations are hung. This gallery includes eight 16 x 16 blown up photos of Felix before he transitioned. Long hair. Dresses. A placard underneath each photo includes Felix’s deadname and the year the photo was taken. Felix is horrified, heartbroken and very angry. Most of all, he wants to find out who targeted him with this horrific transphobic act, and he wants to extract revenge…. or maybe not?
Quoting from the book:
After narrowing down the pool of subjects, Felix quickly finds who he thinks is the culprit. But the longer he spends trying to figure out the best way to extract revenge … the more he begins to doubt his plan, and himself.
This is a phenomenal young adult read which explores identity, race, sexuality/transgender identities, bullying, the confusing emotions that teens go through, friendships, family dynamics, and ultimately Felix’s journey to self-love. It is a story about validation and empowerment. The lovely cover design, a Felix self-portrait, shows a proud transmasculine demiboy wearing tattoos, a crown of flowers, and a low hanging loose tank revealing top surgery scars.
Felix Ever After is a 2021 Stonewall Honor Book. The Stonewall Book Award is an American Library Association award given annually to English-language children’s and young adult books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender experience.
Kacen Callender is Black, queer, trans, and uses they/them and he/him pronouns. They are originally from Saint Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. Callender debuted their new name when announcing their writing of Felix Ever After.
In September, 2020 Amazon Studio’s announced plans to develop Felix Ever After into a television series.
This book review was submitted by Stand with Trans board member Barb Shumer, who is a retired public librarian.