McSmith, Toby. Stay Gold. HarperTeen, 2020. 362p. ISBN: 9780062943170. $18.99. HS, OT ****
Pony is the new kid at a big high school in Texas and trying to stay stealth in his trans identity. It’s not that he’s ashamed to be trans; he just wants it not to be such a big deal, especially after he came out at his previous high school. So his goal is to keep a low profile and just enjoy being accepted as male by his new peers. Naturally he immediately meets the adorable Georgia who is funny and popular and unexpectedly wants to spend lots of time with him. Between high school pranks and family secrets and trying to raise money for surgery, there are plenty of complications. Nonetheless, Georgia and Pony have chemistry, witty banter, and a quirky insider-outsider perspective on their school. The only catch: each is hiding some important part of their life from the other. Will they find a way to be together? And if so, will they be able to do it as their authentic selves?
There is a lot to appreciate in this cheerleader meets new kid high school romance. Real teen issues of family pressure, gender stereotyping, fitting in, and standing out are built authentically into a story with a trans protagonist. However, the story does not revolve around a trans identity crisis. Yes, Pony is clearly trans and many plot points happen because of this. But Pony is not conflicted about his gender identity and spends his time worrying about friends and family and job and school and Georgia. Which underscores the point that not all trans romances have to involve a tortured main character struggling with their gender or sexual identity. Romance readers who relish a will-they or won’t-they story and happily ever after should get trans protagonists. Trans readers and allies should get to see the full range of romantic stories including hopeful rom-coms like this one. Stay Gold adds another title to the side of the scale which says that trans characters, like trans teens, are multi-dimensional people with many things to angst about and to celebrate.
Whiteness is situated as the norm in this book and both main characters are white. The story includes discussions of discrimination, realistic violence against LBTQ+ characters and self-harm that makes it more suitable to more mature readers.
-Andrea Mullarkey, Berkeley Public Library
Tags: Bullying, Coming of age, Diverse, LGBTQ+, Mental health, Realistic, Romance