Book: Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin
Published May 2013 by Atria|343 pages
Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library
Genre: Adult Contemporary (but I think it has a lot of crossover appeal)
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?
Written by twenty-six-year-old rising star Abigail Tarttelin, Golden Boy is a novel you’ll read in one sitting but will never forget; at once a riveting tale of a family in crisis, a fascinating exploration of identity, and a coming-of-age story like no other.
I have so many thoughts about Golden Boy! Golden Boy was a frustrating/okay read for me, but I also get why people love it so much.
I think I’m going to start off this review with everything I didn’t like, because it’s hard to talk about what I did like without mentioning what I didn’t like.
From this point forward, there are going to be spoilers, because I just can’t be vague in this review.
Initially, when Max was raped by Hunter (his cousin in the sense that they’re not blood-related but grew up together, thus making them related), it seemed like Hunter knew that Max was intersex, but Max didn’t know. At least very least, it seemed like Max knew something, but wasn’t sure what. The rape scene was hard to read (it’s about 20 pages in, and is over in a couple of pages if that’s a trigger for you) but it does set up everything else that happens in the book. We do learn that Max does know, but we also see throughout the book how little he knows.
Karen, by far, was the most frustrating character in the book, and at one point, I reached for a highlighter before remembering that highlighting in a library would be a very bad idea. So instead, I used those sticky flag things to mark a few things I wanted to remember for later. Basically, the mom’s way of dealing with everything is to have her husband deal with it, and to pretend like it isn’t happening. Max being moody makes her uncomfortable, and she’s terrified of losing him to adolescence. I’m not a parent, so I can’t speak to that, but the thought of not being in control seems to bother her.
She also sees intersex as a disease, and that Max will no longer be intersex if he has a hysterectomy. It has to be hard, but…it also doesn’t mean it’s going to magically go away, and it seems like she has a really hard time accepting it. Understandable, because she’s a person and a mother, and maybe she blames herself, but… She wants him to have it right after having an abortion to get it over with. Max needs some time to think about the abortion, because everything moves so fast, but his mom ignores it, and doesn’t say anything to the doctors. This, of course, causes problems with her husband and Max. It just really seems like what Max wants isn’t super-important to her- it’s a lot to handle, especially for a teenage boy, and he is, I think, old enough to have a significant part in things.
As for the other characters: the doctor does seem to care, and willing to explain things to Max, which is more than I can say about the other characters. His opinion seems to matter to her. Sylvie- I honestly can’t remember much about her, but she is also awesomely accepting of Max. His younger brother seems to handle Max being intersex remarkably better than Max and his parents, more than you’d expect for a 10 year old. He’s mature enough that I kept forgetting he was 10, so he either needed to be less mature or older. And Max’s dad wasn’t really in the picture- he’s there enough, and it seems important to him that Max have a say, but no one really seems to talk about it either. Until they have to, of course.
As for Max, he seems to be really well-adjusted with everything, until he’s not. Then again, he does try hard to be perfect, and I wonder if it’s because he feels pressure from his mom to be perfect.
I can also see why it would be shelved in the YA section, but I felt like the narration from the adults were too frequent for it to be in the YA section. Plus, there was something about the tone and feel of the book that seemed more towards the adult end of things, but there is something about it that I think older teens would like.
Still, as frustrated as I got when reading Golden Boy, I did like the family dynamic, and how they did (or didn’t) deal with Max’s pregnancy/intersex-related issues.
2 stars. The family dynamic was interesting, and I certainly felt for Max, but I found myself frustrated enough with the mom that I couldn’t overlook it. I would still recommend it, though, because it deals with issues most people probably don’t think about.