After transitioning at his old school led to a year of bullying culminating in a school-wide lockdown, fifteen-year-old Spencer Harris starts his sophomore year at Oakley, a well-known liberal private school in Ohio. He is surrounded by more accepting classmates, but is still careful of who he comes out to - making the choice to pass unless absolutely necessary. A well-placed kick of a dodgeball in Spencer's first gym class alerts the coach to his potential, and when he aces the tryouts he has a decent chance at earning a starting position on the boy's soccer team. There might even be a spark of romance with a fellow teammate, Justice. But there's a problem - the state of Ohio doesn't allow gender markers on birth certificates to be changed, and a discriminatory law will not allow Spencer's coach to let him play without risk of disqualification from the league. So Spencer has a decision to make - watch his teammates fulfill his dream and cheer them on, or fight for his right to play, even if that means coming out to everyone.
*content warnings for mentions of past bullying, religious-motivated homophobia, and mention of drug overdose, main representation = biracial trans mlm MC, gay LI, non-binary side character, autistic side character*
This was such a charming read that captivated me so much I was able to read all in one sitting. In it's 299 pages, it tells an intricate story of a trans teen wanting a sense of normalcy after complete chaos, and has dreamed of playing on the boy's soccer team, where he knows he truly belongs, only to be told he cannot play because of a marker on his birth certificate. Spencer has the full support of his parents, and younger brother Theo, who have strived to understand and do what is best for their son ever since he came to them and said he was a boy, which includes getting him puberty blockers and allowing him to transition. He is confident in his identity, and the only time he ever faulters in the book is when he is deciding to tell other people he's trans, like his new friends, the guy he's crushing on, and his teammates/coach. There was such a balance between light-hearted & sweet moments and heart-wrenching serious conversations that neither overshadowed the other and the book flowed incredibly nicely. One aspect I appreciated from the plot was that a lie Spencer tells his parents does not go unresolved for the entire book, which might be a pet peeve of mine. Spencer does not inform his parents that he attended tryouts for soccer, and subsequently made the team, because when he broached the subject with them after his first day, they were less than enthusiastic and advised against it. Though about halfway through the book Spencer is forced to miss a weekend game due to doctor's appointments, causing the coach to call his mom, the truth to be revealed, and Spencer to be grounded. This also sparks a discussion between him and his parents regarding his passion for soccer, and that their concern for his protection is ultimately causing more harm then good, which I thought was really well done. Especially after Spencer's harsh bullying, it's understandable for his parents to be over-protective, but they have to come to understand that sometimes the person who will know what's best for Spencer is himself.
I also really wanted to talk about Spencer's relationship with Justice. While it was lovely and adorable to see, it also highlights two individuals at different parts of their journey to explore their identity. Spencer has transitioned, is confident in his identity, and has the support of his family so he does not have to hide who he is. Justice, on the other hand, comes from a religious family, who has made it clear by their words and their actions that they will not be accepting if he comes out to them. It causes conflict for Spencer, feeling as if Justice understands and accepts him but knowing he still cannot outright object his family's harmful rhetoric in order to protect himself. I also appreciated how the book points out that sometimes, people's minds can't be changed. You can try to explain, show them the error of their ways, but sometimes people are too one-track minded. Justice's family does not have an epiphany and suddenly become accepting of people who are different from the societal norm. But Justice finds comfort in knowing that he can find family in Spencer, his friends, his coach, and even Spencer's parents on holidays like Thanksgiving. It certainly is bittersweet, but it is, unfortunately, the reality for so many teens today.
If I could buy a copy of this book for everyone in my life to read it, I would. Especially in 2021, which, according to an article published by the Human Rights Campaign in May, has become the worst year for anti-LGBTQ legislation in recent history. It was an absolute joy and I hope those who pick it up and read it enjoy it just as much as I did. *Thank you to BookishFirst and the publisher, Dial Books, for the early copy, all thoughts and opinions are my own.*