Thursday, June 6, 2013

Book Review: Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin

You think YOU had identity problems in high school? You didn't have anything on Max.
(vintage hand mirror from LilyPieVintagex on Etsy)
I've never read anything like Golden Boy, and I don't think I'll ever forget this story. Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin is about gender, ambiguity, and secrets. It's about the discomfort some people feel when they can’t neatly categorize others, and the damage well-meaning parents can do when their "help" becomes invasive and inappropriate. It just came out a few weeks ago, and it will probably be controversial, but it's an excellent story.

Sixteen year old Max Walker is popular, athletic, and attractive. Teachers and girls love him, and his mother thinks of him as her perfect angel. But Max’s family is hiding a secret: Max is intersex. Strictly speaking, he isn’t biologically male or female. But Max identifies as a boy and he likes girls, so his parents raised him as a son. When Max was born, his parents couldn't agree on a course of treatment, so they did nothing. The Walkers seem to think they can make Max’s condition go away if they simply ignore it. But Max's secret has been ignored too long, and it comes to the surface in a terrible way. The book begins with a bombshell. One shocking event creates a long list of questions and a twist that I really didn't see coming. At its heart, it's a coming of age story, but it has the tension of a mystery novel. I could not put this book down.

Max, his mother, his brother, his doctor, his girlfriend, and his father take turns telling the story from their own points of view. I was impressed, because each character's voice is believable. Max's unnaturally logical, robot-obsessed 10 year old brother is especially funny.

This is Abigail Tarttelin's first novel, and it's so good that I can only think these small criticisms: She always shows that characters are nervous by making them blush or chew on things, and it gets distracting. And the doctor is a flat character that exists only to impart medical information. She sometimes sounds like Wikipedia, not an actual person.

But my complaints are small, and I'm so impressed by Tarttelin's multifaceted approach to the story. She shows the many ways that the secret and all its ensuing fallout affects the entire family, not just Max. At the end, though, my favorite thing about this book is that  Max isn't the problem; the secret is the problem.


  1. So...I have another book you need to read. I'll give it to you the next time we see each other, yes?


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