In Kerick’s (The Weekend Bucket List, 2018, etc.) YA novel, two teens navigate gender and other identities.
Julian Mendez—or Julia as she hopes one day to be known at school and everywhere else—recently tried to kill herself with a bottle of Extra Strength Tylenol. Everyone at school assumes it was a cry for help (including Julia), so now she’s seeing a therapist who specializes in trans teens. Julia is placed on puberty blockers, and her therapist recommends that she join a club and try to make some friends in order to “expand [her] social base” before the treatment takes its effect on her body. At a meeting of the Rights for Every Human Organization, Julia meets Kale Oswald, another youngster going through a transformation—from nonhippie to hippie. Julia isn’t much impressed by Kale’s recently acquired dreadlocks and tie-dye, but Kale finds that he is feeling an unexpected attraction to Julia, whom he perceives as a male. Could Kale be gay, he wonders? As fate further entangles the pair, they discover that they are more similar than they originally thought…but can the relationship survive the revelation that Julian is really Julia? Kerick’s narration toggles between Julian’s and Kale’s perspectives. Both brim with angst and snark: “Since I left my makeup bag on my bed in the frenzied morning rush,” Julia tells her unwanted therapist, “I had no powder to do touch-ups, so my face is as greasy as Colonel Sanders’s crispiest chicken breast. Don’t you like the way the suckage of my day came full circle, right back to my late start?” Despite its serious topic, Kerick eschews the melodrama common in today’s YA lit, opting instead for a lighter, jocular tone that mostly focuses on perennial teen issues: student rivalries, bullying, families, and crushes. Julian’s and Kale’s situations and feelings of discombobulation are strikingly relatable. The book ends up about where the reader expects it will, but the well-drawn and emotionally engaging characters make this novel a fine place for a teen to pass the time.
A funny, heartwarming YA novel.