by Abigail Tarttelin
Original Publication Date: May 2013
Length: 347 pages
Publisher: Atria books
Obtained Via: Library
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Max Walker is a golden boy. Attractive, intelligent, and athletic, he’s the perfect son, the perfect friend, and the perfect crush for the girls in his school. He’s even really nice to his little brother. Karen, Max’s mother, is determined to maintain the façade of effortless excellence she has constructed through the years, but now that the boys are getting older, she worries that the façade might soon begin to crumble. Adding to the tension, her husband Steve has chosen this moment to stand for election to Parliament. The spotlight of the media is about to encircle their lives.
The Walkers are hiding something, you see. Max is special. Max is different. Max is intersex. When an enigmatic childhood friend named Hunter steps out of his past and abuses his trust in the worst possible way, Max is forced to consider the nature of his well-kept secret. Why won’t his parents talk about it? What else are they hiding from Max about his condition and from each other? The deeper Max goes, the more questions emerge about where it all leaves him and what his future holds, especially now that he’s starting to fall head over heels for someone for the first time in his life. Will his friends accept him if he is no longer the Golden Boy? Will anyone ever want him—desire him—once they know? And the biggest one of all, the question he has to look inside himself to answer: Who is Max Walker, really?
So. Golden Boy is a beautiful, beautiful book. . . and I don’t think I could ever read it again. It’s dark(but not hopeless), but man. This book broke me a little bit. The opening of this book opens with a highly traumatic sexual assault — like seriously, the most upsetting book opening ever — and the book deals with the fallout Max has with that.
For the most part, Max doesn’t think of himself in terms of being intersex often. It impacts his life daily — from the very beginning, he ponders over how it impacts his romantic relationships — but it’s not something he really considers in terms of his identity often. However, what happens after that assault means that he has to directly confront the idea of his own identity. . . and so do those around him.
Golden Boy is told through a split POV format. Max gets the majority of the POV, I would say, but it’s pretty evenly split between him, his younger brother, his mother, his doctor, and Sylvie, a girl at his school who he tentatively starts up a relationship with. At first, I found the POV splits confusing(and I have to admit to being slightly annoyed at the younger brother’s POV, because reading adult literary fiction from the POV of a child is always slightly awkward and cringe-worthy, but I ended up really liking where Tarttelin took that POV), but in the end it added to the story.
For a book that was so much about the internal struggle of identity, it felt rather fast-paced. I read it over two sittings, and once I hit page 100 I did not want to put it down. Max’s voice felt so compelling and authentic — a teenager struggling with something big, and being completely overwhelmed. It definitely made me emotional just reading about this fictional character, and the story was handled with so much tact and hope, even despite the heavy plot.
This book can be tough to read, so I definitely advise preceding with caution. However, I also think it’s totally worth the read. I was skeptical about parts of this book(mostly the split POV), but I came to absolutely love it. It was heavy and dealt with very tough topics, but also dealt amazingly with identity and choices. 5/5 stars.