#GeekGirlTalk: Felix Ever After
Who We Are Vaguely and in Terms Only of the Media We Seek Out Most Often:
Teal (roman type!)
Literally any teen TV show, YA, women’s and feminist media, everything Star Trek
Hanna (italics, baby!)
Reality TV, memoirs, romance novels, anything British, any podcast ever
I think both Hanna and I have been craving some really good, really queer YA recently. When I started hearing about Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender online, I knew it was likely to be just that. The story follows a 17-year-old Black trans kid named Felix as he muddles his way through a summer program he’s completing at the private arts high school he attends in New York. A few important throughlines of the story are that Felix doesn’t know what to make for his senior portfolio (which he’ll submit in his college applications), he’s questioning whether there’s more to his trans and queer identities than he’d previously thought, and he feels a lot of anxiety about the fact that he’s never been in love and what that might mean about him. It’s serious YA stuff, and serious queer stuff, and that’s the exact arena I’m most interested in. But, before I dive into what I was thinking while reading, Hanna, what did you think of Felix?
So, for the first 30 or so pages of Felix, I was really afraid that I wouldn’t love it. (Which, of course, wouldn’t have ultimately mattered so much; as a white cis queer woman, my personal opinion on the book is irrelevant as long as it connects with the communities represented within it–namely, Black trans people). I was frustrated by the Felix’s friends (with the exception of Ezra and, eventually, Leah), and I was worried that the multifaceted and intense transphobia that Felix experiences early on meant that the book would reinforce a narrative in which trans people are always the subjects of violence and are never allowed joy. Ultimately, though, I loved this book. It was so complex, emotional, and full of such realistic depictions of friendship, love, family, and identity. A few things in particular stood out to me: the fact that the quasi love triangle in the book actually worked (!?), the beauty of Felix’s search for an identifier that felt right to him (which felt so believable to the experience of a teen who’s just, like, “It’s a great thing that I have Google to help me figure this out,”) and the way that art (and artist’s block) helps Felix connect with himself and understand what he really wants out of life (spoiler alert: getting in to Brown isn’t going to solve anyone’s problems). Teal, I would love to also talk about the fact that this is an #OwnVoices book–something that is, of course, crucial for so many reasons.
Yes! Okay, so #OwnVoices, though y’all likely already know, means exactly what it sounds like: It’s a way to describe books that are written by authors who share the identities of their main, POV characters. This is a hugely important thing in all fiction, but particularly in books for and about kids and teens where so much of the plot revolves around a coming-of-age and/or emotional journey for the main character. In terms of this book and the intersection between the characters’ experiences and my own, I’ve been thinking a lot about #OwnVoices and how it’s being utilitzed by queer writers for their queer characters.
Something that we talk a lot about, Hanna, is the fact that queer writers (who are writing queer characters) in any genre, but notably in YA since its popular iteration is relatively new, have to do a lot of work that cishet writers don’t. There is context about queerness that needs explaining, tropes that need dismantling and reworking. In so many ways, the fact that queer writers are getting long-overdue attention (though it’s still fractional compared to what’s owed) while the concept of #OwnVoices is being widely discussed is pivotal because it gives more genre-defining authority to actual queer writers. And I think Felix is a perfect example of this process and what it can mean for queer YA as more big publishing houses start paying attention to these stories.
I think that this is one of the aspects of this book that makes it so specifically perfect for young adults/teens (even though, of course, YA books are for everyone) and so specifically perfect for this particular time period. Callender does so much work in this book to explore identity terminology, to explain and illustrate the many forms that transphobia can take, to affirm a multiplicity of identities and specificity of experience, to discuss the joys and limitations of Pride™. Sometimes, it feels like a lot of exposition, a lot of work to get the book’s audience on the same page. But in some ways, that also feels like a necessary strategy for right now–especially when Black trans people still face such disproportionate levels of violence, and when there is such pervasive ignorance and misinformation about trans and nonbinary identities. Teal, what do you feel about the approach that Callender takes? Did it work for you? What are the upsides and the limitations of having to do so much more explaining that white cishet writers?
I think the upsides of this approach are monumental in that Felix, and other books like it, will give so much to their readers. Like, just as a point of reference, Hanna and I, two white adult people who have had a lot of safety and validation in exploring our queerness, need this book much differently than I imagine queer kids of color might. And the fact that we have people like Callender who are putting in so much work to get these stories out in the world is so heartening. This is the kind of art that I want to support with my attention and my money (and my blogging lolol).
Also, despite everything I just said, I also found so many moments in Felix, especially the parts where he’s thinking about his queerness, to so intensely give me the feeling of, Wow, this is why we need queer people to write queer sh**. Hanna pulled this perfect quote to give you an example of Callender’s real triumph in this process:
“I was hurt this summer, hurt more than I thought I ever could be. It could’ve been easy to say I was hurt because I’m trans, because someone singled me out for my identity, but there’s something weird about that—something off, about suggesting that my identity is the thing that brought me any sort of pain. It’s the opposite. Being trans brings me love. It brings me happiness. It gives me power. It makes me feel like I’m a god. I wouldn’t change myself for anything.”
One other/final thing I’ll say is that I’m just so excited about how the quote unquote genre of queer YA will continue to evolve as more queer writers publish new stories. We’re going to get so much good and real and hopeful depictions of queer people and relationships. And we’re going to get our own tropes and our own genre conventions, and it’s basically the only thing I’m excited for.
On that note, let’s continue this conversation and celebrate Pride by sharing reviews and recommendations for more YA written by queer BIPOC on Twitter. You can find me @TealChristensen and Hanna @HuppTwoThree.