A few weeks ago, I fell into a vortex of finding books to recommend to my younger sister. One of those was Felix Ever After, a YA book by Kacen Callender. But though I originally wanted to get the novel for my sister, the story looked too good for me to pass up. I ordered a copy for myself, and I’m so glad I did.
I started reading it right away, thinking it’d be the perfect way to end June. With the combination of #BlackLivesMatter and Pride intersecting this month – and especially with #BlackTransLivesMatter getting a greater platform – Felix Ever After was the best book I could have read right now.
Felix Love is Black, queer, and transgender. And despite his last name, he’s never been in love. He worries he’s one marginalization too many for a happily ever after, and he craves love and approval – something his own mom has denied him for years.
Seventeen years old, he’s just finished his junior year of high school and is attending a summer program to build up his portfolio for college applications. He’s a gifted artist, and hopes to be accepted into Brown University, but he’ll need to do well on his portfolio and boost his grades.
Early in the program, someone puts up old photos of Felix before he transitioned, revealing his deadname, and then starts sending him transphobic messages. Felix quickly identifies a suspect and, wanting to ruin their life, decides to try out a catfishing game to uncover their dirty little secrets.
But things get way more complicated than Felix could have imagined. Dealing with anonymous, transphobic taunts, questioning his gender identity, and experiencing love and all its confusions for the first time, Felix is in for a transformative month – fittingly, all during June: Pride month.
Felix Ever After has a lot of great themes. Among my favorites is Felix’s relationship with his best friend, Ezra. This is what friendship should be. Ezra is the most supportive, present, empowering, and accepting friend I can imagine, and it’s clear why he and Felix are so close. They have an incredible bond, and I love how Ezra always sticks up for Felix. Their relationship has its ups and downs, and it evolves as circumstances change, but it never becomes toxic, even in the worst of times.
Speaking of complicated relationships: Felix has some backstory with a few of his classmates, including an ex-friend and an ex-girlfriend. Beyond those, we get believable dynamics with his classmates – mostly neutral acquaintances co-existing, but some are more positive and close to becoming friends, and others are more negative and hurtful. It always feels real, though, and true to what teens experience in high school.
More complicated is Felix’s relationship with his parents. His mother left him years ago, and this abandonment is the root of lot of Felix’s insecurities. If his own mother can’t love him, how could anyone else? More confusing is his dad, who paid for Felix’s top surgery, but still can’t call him by his right name or pronouns. Seeing their dynamic, and getting a glimpse of his dad’s perspective, added depth to the story.
Perhaps the most important relationship, though, is that which Felix has with himself. His paintings prove to be a moving representation of Felix’s evolving self-image and self-worth. As he learns to get value from within rather than from others, he grows a lot, opening up new understandings of himself and improving the fractured relationships in his life.
Felix Ever After is a powerful book about a transgender guy. But it doesn’t rest there, and we get a great exploration of someone continuing to question their gender identity. Felix thought he was sure about being a trans guy… but sometimes that doesn’t quite feel right. As Felix learns more about different gender identities, the reader, too, may learn something. I myself hadn’t encountered a couple of terms he learns towards the end, including the term that he eventually finds fits him best. It’s a great opportunity to better understand anyone questioning their gender and their identity, and whether those labels matter to them.
In this novel, many of the characters are part of the LGBTQ+ community. It’s refreshing to see so much representation, and to see it be (mostly) accepted among the characters. They often have thought-provoking conversations about rights, discrimination, social justice, and more.
These woke conversations also lead to class and wealth, as some of the characters are more privileged in that regard. As someone who grew up rather poor myself, I identified a lot with Felix and his financial situation. Needing a scholarship or facing staggering student loan debt? I felt that. And when Felix calls out his wealthier friends for their privilege, I felt like encouraging him on. But on the other hand, we also learn that wealth isn’t everything, and things aren’t always as they seem. These are some great discussions, regardless of your own financial background.
Felix Ever After does have some messy moments. Rapid teen relationships and immature mistakes certainly have a presence here, but it always feels true to the characters. I may be 30 now (yikes), but I remember what it was like to be a teenager and not realize the damage you’re doing.
I only had two real pet peeves here: 1) The characters rolled their eyes way too much! Practically every page had someone rolling their eyes. 2) Underage drinking and smoking (both weed and cigarettes). I can’t say I support any of it in general, and especially not for people who are under age. That’s just me. But these elements are minor compared to the rest of the book’s excellence.
Felix Ever After was a powerful and thought-provoking novel with strong characters and an inspiring transformation. I loved getting to know a character who is Black, queer, and transgender – three things I’m not – and in a novel that radiates such positivity and warmth. It truly was a perfect way to end this month, and I encourage you to read it, too, regardless of the time of year.
This is the second YA book by Kacen Callender, and they also have an adult fantasy series that I’m interested in. I’ll definitely be reading more of their books!