Golden BoyGolden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin
My rating: 4/5 cats
One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

max is an intersex teenager who identifies as male. when he becomes the victim of a sexual assault, the consequences are both physically and emotionally devastating and wayyy too much for a sixteen-year-old to deal with, especially one who has until then led such a charmed life.

despite having to carry this secret his whole life, max was remarkably well-adjusted before the attack. he is an accomplished athlete and student, his home life is fairly stable, despite two overachieving parents and what appears to be an autistic younger brother, and the girls… max is very pretty. and teenage girls love pretty boys. and max certainly takes advantage of the mutual appreciation of prettiness. however, because he has to keep his secret, it doesn’t go further than making out and some quickly-curtailed groping. he gets the reputation of being something of a lothario, even though he remains a virgin. people draw their own conclusions, and he’s okay with that.

max doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about his future, or about what makes him different, until he is forced to do so in the wake of his rape. and then that’s all he does.

and it is heartbreaking.

this is not a YA book, but i think that strong teen readers could appreciate it. there is a lot of specific medical information in it, which drags the narrative a bit for a reader accustomed to the quickfire YA pacing, but since there is so little (that i know of) in the way of intersex lit, it’s probably something that could stand a little more exposure. i personally loved all the genetic information; i hadn’t really considered all the possible variations of intersexuality, and i found it fascinating.

dana says in her review that this has been compared to Annabel, and i second her in declaring that it is not a similar read. at all. it is also nothing like Middlesex, and that is the end of the list of “intersex books i have read.” they are all fine books (dana would disagree), but the intersex element is the only thing they have in common.

this one is very much a story of consequences, and the effects a rape has on a family, especially in a situation like this, where the complications are so much more severe. and, dear lord, the attack scene made me cringe so bad. rape scenes are bad enough, but considering the mechanics of this one, and the anatomical difficulties… horrible.

and it’s worse because of the guilt max feels afterward, like maybe he was leading the attacker on, unknowingly. having been treated like a boy his whole life, and identifying as a boy, he never had to learn the perils of teenage girl-sexuality*. with his numerous make-out partners, he was never the initiator, and he let things happen without having to exert any effort. and the attack was similar. like many victims, he froze and afterwards, he blamed himself and it’s just freaking gutting.

the story is told in a multi-narrative format, where voice and perspective are given to max, both of his parents, his brother, one of his doctors, and a girl who may be the best thing to ever happened to max. but it’s everything – it’s the struggles of parents between trying to protect their children but still allowing them autonomy, and the many mistakes that can occur along that path. it’s about love and fear and self-perception. it’s about the narrowing of options and the fear of being left behind. it’s about secrets being kept and the sense that everyone knows these secrets but you.

and it’s just powerful stuff, all around. i definitely recommend it for anyone interested in gender and identity, or just a story about an unusual situation and the way it crashes through a family and what is left at the end.

*and, because i know how goodreads works, i know that two years from now, someone i don’t know will come on here and say “you are stupid and insensitive!! boys get raped, too! ” and i know that. but it is less common. and girls learn early how to detect and deflect male interest, if need be. and i’m not just talking abut sexual predators, but just general guarding of the castle. we know our effect and we learn how to protect ourselves from unwanted attention. it’s not foolproof, sometimes it’s good to have a more weapony deterrent, but it’s a survival skill. and we has it. and boys generally don’t have to develop it to the same extent, so max’s “was i leading him on??” worries are more poignant for that.

read my reviews on goodreads

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