REVIEW: Stay Gold by Tobly McSmith

The Official Description: Debut author Tobly McSmith delivers a coming-of-age teen love story about a transgender boy who’s going stealth at his new Texas high school and a cisgender girl who is drawn to him, even as she’s counting down the days until graduation. Perfect for fans of David Levithan, Becky Albertalli, and Jenny Han.

Pony just wants to fly under the radar during senior year. Tired from all the attention he got at his old school after coming out as transgender, he’s looking for a fresh start at Hillcrest High. But it’s hard to live your best life when the threat of exposure lurks down every hallway and in every bathroom.

Georgia is beginning to think there’s more to life than cheerleading. She plans on keeping a low profile until graduation…which is why she promised herself that dating was officially a no-go this year.

Then, on the very first day of school, the new guy and the cheerleader lock eyes. How is Pony supposed to stay stealth when he wants to get close to a girl like Georgia? How is Georgia supposed to keep her promise when sparks start flying with a boy like Pony?

Funny and poignant, clear-eyed and hopeful, Stay Gold is a story about finding love—and finding yourself.

Just the facts: Trans character, high school romance, coming out

“Stay Gold” is sweet and challenging in the best ways – Kinzie Things

My thoughts bit:  Pony is a transgender young man on his way to a new high school. He sees it as his opportunity to start fresh as the man he’s always known that he is. On the very first day as Pony walks up the stairs to the front door of his new school, he spots Georgia through the crowd. Georgia is a cheerleader and is beginning her senior year of not-dating in her uniform surrounded by her friends. When their eyes lock the direction of both of their lives changes.

This novel is a love story but it’s also about learning to be who you are and being open and authentic. There are so many influences and pressure in High school and they’re not always good or bad. I felt like this was a pretty accurate representation of being a Senior and struggling to fit in. As a Cisgender woman, I can’t speak to the issue that Pony deals with as a trans man, but it read as authentic to me.

In the midst of all the growth and change that happens in your senior year of high school, Pony is dealing with all kinds of pressure. Pony’s home life is far from perfect. His mother is quietly supportive, his sister is fiercely protective and vocal on his behalf. Pony’s father doesn’t accept his son at all. At times he is hurtful and emotionally abusive. He refuses to call Pony by his real name and deadnames him.

When I was reading Pony’s POV in this novel, I could definitely feel the pain and hurt that was caused by him misgendering. McSmith has really captured the emotions and turmoil of everyday things that most people take for granted. The first time Pony uses the bathroom in his new high school he is almost frozen in fear when someone confronts him about why he is there. It turns out that the encounter is perfectly innocent but there are a lot of instances of this during the novel that clearly communicates the impact of everyday things on someone who is living with a fear of being misgendered… or something far more violent.

There are several really important themes/ issues explored in this novel. Perhaps the most important and touching is the timing of letting someone know that you are transgender. Who do you tell? When do you tell people? In this novel, when Pony begins a relationship with Georgia it’s as though there is an invisible timeline. I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to determine the “correct” time to tell someone that you are trans. Part of me feels as though no one should ever have to reveal that if they don’t want to – but obviously when you’re talking about a romantic relationship it’s important to be open.

Interestingly, Pony also deals with pressure from his friend Max. Max is a vibrant character, very political, and is constantly putting pressure on Pony to “come out” at school and be more vocal for the rights of trans people everywhere. But, this is still pressure! And it’s still a heavyweight on Pony’s shoulders. Is it wrong to want to just be “average”? Is it wrong to just be yourself and not want to speak up and out?

Ultimately, I think that many of the themes in this book boil down to figuring out what is right for you! We all have the power to decide for ourselves when we reveal things… or even if we do. We have the right to exist and be happy without having to explain or justify. Sadly, for Pony – things culminate in a violent act that shakes the foundations of his beliefs.

For her part, Georgia is also dealing with an event in her past that has left her with little ability to trust men. She was betrayed and her privacy was violated in a severe way … things I’m sure that many young people deal with on a regular basis. While I thought she might have been a bit quick at times to change her mind about her feelings and her actions… I did think she was a pleasant character.

This book is written by Toby McSmith who is a self-identified Own-voices author. I want to acknowledge that because I think that books about trans characters written by trans authors are very important! I wanted to take the time to support own-voices authors and the publishers who get their work out into the world.

Things You May Want To Know: Please be aware, I’m by no means an expert on what may or may not have the potential to disturb people. I simply list things that I think a reader might want to be aware of. In this book: (SPOILERS) Transphobia, transphobic comments, unsupportive father, infidelity with a relationship, hate crime, physical assault, deadnaming, intimate photos posted without permission.

Links: Goodreads // The Author // The Publisher

I received an ARC of Stay Gold by Tobly McSmith from Harper Teen via Edelweiss in exchange for an unbiased review.

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