IT’S ANOTHER MARVELOUS MIDDLE GRADE MONDAY!
The story of Zenobia July is full of characters many middle graders will not have encountered before. There’s a trans girl (Zen—our protagonist), a character identified as gender queer (Arli, who is growing up non-binary— neither fully masculine or feminine), a trans boy (Elijah), two aunts who may be lesbian but are definitely unique, and a drag queen (Uncle Sprink). In the midst of the diverse cast there is also a tender story.
Both of Zenobia’s parents are dead. Her mother passed away when Zen was five and her father just recently. Her aunts now have custody and agree to keep Zen’s trans status a secret, but will support her through future medical challenges. Zen enrolls at the local middle school as a girl. She begins to make friends but also gets on the wrong side of the popular girls.
The depiction of middle school with the cliques and kids trying to discover who they are is accurate to the smallest detail. It’s an environment like none other with emerging hormones clashing with different personality types. A second plot thread concerning the school blends in nicely. Zen is already a cyber genius and offers to help when the school web site is hacked with hurtful messages about Muslims.
The author continues to create complex characters, but this is different than her previous, FELIX Yz. Told in third person, Zen has frequent chats with God about her problems. She also texts with Arli and their friendship strengthens. Other characters take over an occasional short first person chapter. But the basis of the tale is family. So many kids start out with one family only to end up with another due to circumstances they can’t control. And that often turns out to be a good thing.
With brief bursts of swear words and the unique set of characters, I’d reserve this one for sixth grade and up.
PUBLICATION DATE: May 21, 2019 PAGE COUNT: 320
FIVE THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT:
- Aunt Lucy and Phil, along with Uncle Sprink are the most loving care givers you’d ever want to have in a young person’s life.
- The message that friendships sometimes don’t work out. There’s no need to be mean about it not working, just realize later in life you may connect again.
- The tension of Grandma not understanding her grandchild is handled well. There is also a nice character arc.
- The texting chapters were spot on. So kid like.
- I wasn’t sure if I liked Zenobia, but by the end I found her to be very endearing.
THE OFFICIAL BLURB (From Amazon)
Zenobia July is starting a new life. She used to live in Arizona with her father; now she’s in Maine with her aunts. She used to spend most of her time behind a computer screen, improving her impressive coding and hacking skills; now she’s coming out of her shell and discovering a community of friends at Monarch Middle School. People used to tell her she was a boy; now she’s able to live openly as the girl she always knew she was.
When someone anonymously posts hateful memes on her school’s website, Zenobia knows she’s the one with the abilities to solve the mystery, all while wrestling with the challenges of a new school, a new family, and coming to grips with presenting her true gender for the first time. Timely and touching, Zenobia July is, at its heart, a story about finding home.
Read Lisa Bunker’s very personal post on how she identifies.
I received an ARC in exchange for my honest review.
Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.
I was just thinking about when this book was coming out—I’ll definitely have to buy a copy tomorrow, based on your review (and how good Felix Yz was)! Thanks so much for your review!
Sounds like a great story. Deals with so many issues. I’ll be looking for this one at my library. Thanks.
I really loved this book. It was especially nice to see the great adult influences in Zen’s aunts and Uncle Sprink. I hope a lot of kids pick this one up. It will open some young minds. Thanks for your thoughts.
Thanks for your thoughtful post about this new book, Greg.
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