review / stay gold by tobly mcsmith

Summary:

  • published by: HarperTeen
  • genres: contemporary romance, YA
  • content warnings: misgendering and deadnaming of trans character, sexual and physical assault of main character on page, use of trans and lesbian slurs, public outing, suicidal thoughts and ideation, harassment, homophobia
  • For fans of: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo, Simon VS the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, If I Tell You by Alicia Tuckerman

Synopsis:

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Pony just wants to fly under the radar during senior year. Tired from all the attention he got at his old school after coming out as transgender, he’s looking for a fresh start at Hillcrest High. But it’s hard to live your best life when the threat of exposure lurks down every hallway and in every bathroom.

Georgia is beginning to think there’s more to life than cheerleading. She plans on keeping a low profile until graduation…which is why she promised herself that dating was officially a no-go this year.

Then, on the very first day of school, the new guy and the cheerleader lock eyes. How is Pony supposed to stay stealth when he wants to get close to a girl like Georgia? How is Georgia supposed to keep her promise when sparks start flying with a boy like Pony?

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❝   Stay gold, Pony. The world needs you. Stay gold when it’s hard. When it’s lonely. When it’s scary. Especially when it’s scary  ❞

When I heard about this book from the publisher, I was pretty excited. It was pitched as a contemporary romance, comparable to ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’, which is a series I adore. I was expecting a sweet, fluffy romance between the new boy, Pony, who is trans and a popular cheerleader at his school called Georgia. This is what this book is … and it also … isn’t.

The first thing I want to say about this book is anyone going into it purely expecting a fluffy contemporary romance may potentially be disappointed and maybe even feel a little blindsided like I was. While Stay Gold does have a contemporary romance with a happily ever after, a lot of this story follows Pony tackling, oftentimes intense, transphobia and discrimination. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, it is important and valid for these issues to be explored in fiction. It just wasn’t what I expected and I want other people to go into this with the right expectations.

Stay Gold follows Pony, a seventeen-year-old trans boy who is attending a new school in Texas and has decided to go stealth, meaning he will keep his identity a secret. This is a decision he faces come criticism for, mainly from his out and proud best friend Max who believes more people should be out and visible, and from his sister Rocky who supports him and wants him to be open and honest. When Pony arrives at school, he meets and starts to fall for a popular cheerleader called Georgia. During the process of their romance, Pony comes to the realisation he needs to be honest with Georgia about his identity, and his ultimate decision to come out to her sets of a string of events at his school and a discussion around queer identities.

❝   We only get one chance at life. I couldn’t spend another day stuck because I was worried about what people thought of me  ❞

First, I want to point out some basic things I did and didn’t like before I get into a more complex discussion of this book and why my feelings on it are mixed.

One thing I did like was Pony and Georgia’s respective characters and personalities. I particularly liked Georgia. She was a really fun character to follow, with lots of flaws and quirks that made her interesting. Pony was a really sympathetic character, and by the end of the book, I was really invested in him. Their romance was also cute, I liked the parts of them just hanging out as friends, I thought it developed their relationship well and their jokes and banter together were cute.

I also liked how both Georgia and Pony had friends outside of each other. Georgia’s cheerleader friends were an interesting group and I liked the subplot about their team and relationships. The relationship between Pony and his sister Rocky was also something I loved. I adore sibling relationships in books and I thought this one was well done, and their genuine love for each other, mixed with the way they would tease each other felt so authentic.  I also liked the happily ever after the characters got, especially acceptance from friends and family, which I felt was most deserved given how dark this book gets in places. It has some cliche rom-com moments, and I kinda loved them. I also found myself quite sucked into this story, like any good contemporary romance, I felt like I was flying along absorbed into the story and drama.  I also loved the hopeful and uplighting ending. It really made me feel warm and happy and I think it was a perfect ending for this story. 

On the other hand, I wasn’t a huge fan of the writing style, it’s first-person addressing the reader which is my least favourite point of view. I also thought some sections of dialogue were a little stilted, and maybe didn’t read like teens talk. But this is a debut, and those are things I can forgive, and it didn’t majorly interrupt my reading experience.

❝   They raised daughters named Sarah and Rachel and now they have a transgender son named Pony and a unicorn named Rocky. They must wonder where it all went wrong  ❞

Those likes and dislikes aside, I want to talk about how this book wasn’t exactly what I expected. The characters, and by extension, the romance felt like they functioned as a tool to educate non-cis people about the realities of being a trans teen, and even more broadly non-queer people about the queer community. At times, this book felt stilted because portions would be ‘info dumps’ about living as a trans person, which felt more like they came from the author than naturally from the character. Further, depictions of violent sexual and physical assault, as well as inclusions of suicidal thoughts by the main character were included as a vehicle to educate. For example, the main character contemplates suicide, which acts as a gateway for the book informing and giving statistics about high suicide rates in trans teens. I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing to portray in a book, it is just that I think people looking to be educated may resonate with this more than those looking to be represented.

I think I was also looking for more of an arc for Georgia, and maybe for her to have to work a little bit more for her ‘redemption’. I felt the narrative didn’t really address her treatment of Pony and the inconsistencies between her actions and dialogue felt underexplored.

Finally, I’ve seen almost every pre-review address this, so I thought I would quickly discuss it too. A large focus of this book is around being ‘out and proud’. Pony is criticised by his friends and family for going stealth. His best friend Max is particularly critical, even threatening to end their friendship when Pony refuses to share a petition about a trans friend that could potentially out him. I was looking for more nuance in this discussion. I think the general message of the power that can come from being out and proud, and the representation it gives others was powerful. I also thought the narrative could have delved more into the complexities of it. Max going to a liberal art school, having accepting family and all queer friends and thus a vastly different experience to Pony is only briefly mentioned and not really explored. Further, there is a part where Max calls Pony ‘brave’ for coming out and thus getting assaulted, which felt a little off to me.

Overall, I think a lot of my issues with this book boil down to the fact this book didn’t explore queer issues with the nuance I wanted, nor did it give me the story I was expecting. Which is not necessarily a criticism. I think this book is meant to be an introduction to trans issues and the queer community, and that is important. I think this is probably going to be an important and useful book to a lot of people. It’s just not really the story I was looking for. I am sure some people will feel represented by it because realistically, Pony’s experiences are unfortunately ones which trans teens may face. At the same time, there are some discussions and ideas I think may not resonate with every reader, which is fine too. But I think it is a book which ultimately tries to give hope and be uplifting while trying to tackle serious issues head-on.

I would recommend this to people who are interested in the premise, as long as you’re knowing it’s not a wholly fluffy contemporary romance. I think the focus on trans issues was important, and the happily ever after ending for the character was sweet.

Given this is an ARC, there aren’t many reviews out, but I do want to include links to a few trans reviewers who have reviewed this book. I will add more reviews if I find them.

 



 

This is a book I have quite a few thoughts about. While on the surface it is a fluffy rom-com, and it does deliver that to some degree, I was blindsided a little by how much the main character goes through in this book. It’s a book I’ll definitely be following through release date, to see more reviews about, especially from ownvoices reviewers. I think it’s going to be a book that some people resonate with, and others do not. And that it is fine. A book doesn’t have to encapsulate every experience or be written in a way to appease every viewpoint to be worthwhile. I feel I was not the target audience of this book, but I also feel there is potentially a market and audience for this book out there that may really benefit from reading it.

this is an ARC and included quotes are subject to change. stay gold releases on may 26th!
thank you to HarperCollins for sending me an advanced copy of this title

 

until next time

sign off

 

 


2 thoughts on “review / stay gold by tobly mcsmith

  1. Pingback: JAMISHELVES

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