Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
I have been actively looking for books with non-binary characters, and so was very excited to read about a gender fluid person, especially one in high school, because I wanted to see their journey through that very difficult time of life. And when I read the first chapter, I was thinking this was going to be a great book. Unfortunately, it went downhill from there.
The book jumped right in to introducing Declan as gender fluid – his sister found him putting on her dress and shoes when he thought she was out for the evening. He braced himself for ridicule and misery, and was thrilled when instead she was instantly supportive and worked with him to create Layla – his beautiful, confident, female alter ego. They went to a party where Layla met Carter, the most popular guy in school, whom Declan had had a crush on for years. Carter was smitten with Layla, and instantly started pursuing her. Layla agreed to a few dates because she just couldn’t resist, but underneath Declan was trying to keep things casual because he didn’t like the lie, and didn’t want to hurt Carter, and his plan was to have some fun before Layla disappeared and the school year started. The dates turned into anything but casual, and though physically they were somewhat restrained, conversation was always deep and meaningful (and much more mature than I would realistically expect a 16 and 18 year old to be).
At this point I started having my first niggles about the book. Layla and Carter discussed the nature of love, in the context of Carter’s father having cheated on his mother for years before they divorced, and his mother still having trouble letting go. Layla commented:
Because that’s the nature of the thing: to care so much that it doesn’t matter if they ever reciprocate. If you really feel that way, you can’t hurt them. You just can’t. And when they hurt you, you forget it right away.
Hmmm…. sounds like true love requires you to be a doormat, and to me very reminiscent of how battered women justify staying with abusive men. There was more along that line, and I was getting pretty uncomfortable with it. They discussed lying in relationships, Layla admitted that she was lying about something but wouldn’t admit what it was. Carter insisted that he would accept any secret, even if Layla had killed someone – as long as there was a reason. Yikes!
Layla disappeared right before school started, a little over a third of the way into the book. After she had schooled all of Carter’s friends on how to treat women right, and demonstrated her superior skillz with her professional paintball rifle. Oh, and after she and Carter declared their love to each other. Declan showed up at school and made a splash from the start. He had been going to a private school where he was bullied and beaten on a regular basis, and his defense had always been to strive for anonymity and inconspicuousness. At the new school, Carter and Declan’s sister Delia turned him into a sort of mascot for the non-popular crowd, and suddenly Declan was popular with everyone, with no bullying in sight. And he managed to beat up the quarterback of his school’s major rival – which made me wonder why he was beaten up so regularly before when now he could kick the ass of guys twice his size – so everyone loved him. Snap, bullying over, nothing to it. The rest of the book involved Carter, Declan, and Delia standing up to the principal’s homophobia and bigotry, and concludes at the homecoming dance which Carter attends with Declan, both openly in love with each other.
By the last third of the book, I was sitting back and finding fault with everything. Carter and Declan both waffled between uber-confident and meek and doubtful, to the point that they no longer seemed like separate characters. There was a lot of pointless psychobabble on the nature of love, relationships, truth-telling, labels, bigotry, bullying, etc. with overly simplistic resolution of all their problems. The dialogue was frequently ridiculous – even adults don’t talk that way, much less teenagers. There were weird descriptions and misspelled words: “The pack of dissenters had congealed beside the wheelchair ramp in their purposefully drab color pallet”. (I hope she meant palette, and how did the pack congeal?). Another good one – “her warm appearance belied a voice like an ordained opera singer that could strip flesh off the unabashed.” WTF does that even mean?
In the end, I didn’t even care that Declan a champion of gender non-conforming people, or that Carter was the perfect man for whom gender didn’t even matter when it came to love. There was so much potential for these characters, and I was so disappointed that the terrible writing ruined it all for me.
Cover art by Shayne Leighton is interesting, the model was androgynous in a way that I saw Declan
ebook, 335 pages
Expected publication: July 2nd 2018 by Triton Books (an imprint of Riptide Publishing) (first published February 5th 2017)
Original TitleCinderella Boy
ISBN 1626497982 (ISBN13: 9781626497986)