Title: Lily and Dunkin
Author: Donna Gephart
Genre: Realistic Middle Grade Fiction
Number of Pages: 352
Lily and Dunkin is a somewhat predictable but cute story about having the courage to be who you are and finding friends in unlikely places. Lily Jo McGrother is transgender and her dad is pressuring her to conform, to dress as a boy and to go by her deadname ‘Timothy.’ Her mom and her sister support her but she’s bullied at school and lonely, except for her best friend Dare.
Norbert Dorfman hates his name; and who can blame him? He’s the new kid and living with his mom and fitness-obsessed grandma, and he wants more than anything else to be ‘normal.’ Being normal is hard when you have bipolar disorder and your meds make you exhausted. Norbert (who starts going by Dunkin when he meets Lily) joins the basketball team and gradually weans himself off his pills, with predictably disastrous consequences.
For the most part, Lily and Dunkin are likable characters and easy to root for. I actually found Lily more likable but Dunkin more interesting, and I preferred the chapters with his POV (maybe because I’ve had so many struggles with mental health issues and what happens when I ‘skip’ my medication.) I also had a psychotic break once so seeing Dunkin’s attempts to deny the seriousness of his illness and fit in with other people was relatable and sad.
I didn’t like Lily’s friend Dare at all and I wouldn’t have minded if she had just been excluded from the story altogether. Lily should have been able to come out as trans when she was ready and Dare’s constantly pushing her to go to school in feminine clothing and guilting her when she ‘wimped out’ was irresponsible and potentially dangerous.
Her entire role in the story seemed to be to give Lily a hard time for remaining closeted, but was Dare going to be around to help every time Lily got beaten up? NO. Lily was already getting bullied and her dad was partially right that being openly trans was going to make things worse.
I don’t excuse his behavior towards her and the way he kept deadnaming and misgendering her and acting like her being transgender was something she was going to ‘get over,’ but I thought he had her best interests at heart more than Dare did. That girl irritated me to no end.
I wish there had been more closure when it came to Lily’s bullies. The way things escalated and then the story just ended made me worry that the way these kids treated her was just going to get worse and worse as she got farther into her transition. It might have been realistic in some ways, but it was depressing.
It made me angry that Dunkin was hanging out with the guys who bullied Lily and making excuses for it, but you could understand why and that was part of why I thought he was the more nuanced of the two characters. Lily always did what she thought was right, Dunkin didn’t. But they were both good kids.
This book checks a lot of the familiar boxes for a transgender/mental health narrative, but I still enjoyed the relationship between the two characters and seeing them grow stronger as people throughout the story. The short chapters made it a quick and easy read and it slid effortlessly between the two perspectives, showing some of the same scenes through both Lily and Dunkin’s eyes.