Title: Zenobia July
Author: Lisa Bunker
Genre: Realistic Middle-Grade Fiction
Number of Pages: 320
Zenobia July is starting over. After the deaths of her father and her mother, she goes to live with her two gay aunts and starts going to a new school. It’s a huge change from what she’s used to, and things are complicated by Zen hiding the fact that she’s trans and openly living as a girl for the first time in her life from her classmates.
Being a huge tech nerd with a gift for hacking, Zen offers to help one of her teachers when an anonymous troll posts bigoted hate messages all over the school website. As she becomes friends with an offbeat gender-neutral student with a passion for wordplay and their group of fellow misfits, Zenobia becomes more and more fearful of getting in too deep and being outed to everyone at their school.
First of all, I want to say I really liked Zenobia’s character and thought she was both believable and well-developed, with both good and bad personality traits. I personally would have liked to have found out more about her backstory; her dad and mom obviously shaped her life so much yet we knew so little about them. I also liked both of her lesbian aunties, especially Aunt Phil, and their drag performer friend Uncle Sprink was also pretty awesome. I liked the short excerpts showing how various people in Zenobia’s life perceived her, I’ve never seen anything quite like that used in a novel before but it fit the story really well.
I sometimes felt that this book was too single-minded with almost everything being exclusively focused on gay and transgender issues, without exploring other aspects of the characters’ lives. The characters who were gay, trans, non-binary, etc. were well-developed overall but at the same time I felt the writer should have given them more breathing room to talk more about subjects outside being GLBTQ+. I was also a little disappointed about the big reveal about who the douchebag troll was. I thought it technically added up but it also lacked impact.
Although it had it’s occasional weak points, this book was a page-turner for me and I connected to the characters and their struggles. I think this novel and some of the other ones I’ve read lately that feature trans protagonists should be read by anybody who wants to understand different gender identities better, whether they’re cis or don’t know anybody who’s transgender or basically have no idea what trans is. It’s good for developing empathy and thinking more about the multitude of challenges people in this group often face. I definitely want to read Lisa Bunker’s other book now.