Friday, September 17, 2021

Stay Gold, by Tobly McSmith

When his family moves to Addison at the start of his last year of high school, Pony makes the decision that he's going to keep his trans identity a secret.  Things weren't exactly hostile at his last school, but it was uncomfortable having so much attention.  If he never tells anyone, he hopes he can just have a quiet final year.  But then he falls for Georgia, the prettiest girl on the cheerleading squad, and he realizes that things can only go so far before he needs to tell her what he is hiding.

Georgia is dealing with her own secrets.  Cheerleading is no longer the fun that she once thought it was.  She is developing other interests like writing and has grown uncomfortable with the attitudes of her fellow squad mates.  She's ready for a change but not sure if she's brave enough to come out.  Cheerleading has made her popular and she is afraid of what people will say about her if she were to quit.  Enter this exciting new boy who seems so self-aware, kind, and different.  And while he's not a football player like the guys that the other cheerleaders are dating, he seems so much more real.  He inspires her to take chances and pursue her dreams.

A well-written YA romance between a trans boy and a straight girl that moves briskly.  It touches on a variety of issues related to trans young people.  With the parallel between Pony's secrets and Georgia's suppressed dreams, there is an attempt to place the two young people in positions that build sympathy between them.  This helps to explain a lot of Georgia's growth along the way.  But the book also groans under the weight of some really distasteful characters, poor behavior, Pony's lack of growth, and the author's overall agenda.  I really hated the characters.  Pony is facing a lot of problems with a difficult family situation and the awkward school situation, but he is incredibly self-absorbed and selfish.  He takes nearly 150 pages to getting around to telling Georgia that he's trans and then is hurt when she is shocked (but not repulsed) by the revelation.

Georgia's reaction (which is mostly due to betrayal of trust) makes sense and initially that seems to be all that it is.  But when she also admits that she isn't sure that she wants a trans boyfriend or that she's ready to face social ostracism for dating him, the story turns on her pretty quickly. When confronted with a horrible act of violence, Georgia realizes the error of her ways and embraces Pony fully.  That didactic resolution left me with a bad taste in my mouth.  To me, Georgia's reservations were fair and worthy of consideration, but not in this story.  Instead, we're told that her reservations were as bad at the bigotry to which Pony is subjected.  Max, a friend of Pony's, makes this statement several times, serving as the author's Greek Chorus.  To me, not respecting the idea that physical sex is important to the CIS gendered as well as the transgendered is an ideological dead end.

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