Review: Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender


From Stonewall and Lambda Award-winning author Kacen Callender comes a revelatory YA novel about a transgender teen grappling with identity and self-discovery while falling in love for the first time.

Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.

When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle….

But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.

Felix Ever After is an honest and layered story about identity, falling in love, and recognizing the love you deserve.

RATING: ☆★☆★☆

It is so intoxicating to be so clearly seen by someone else. To look at each other across a gap that had once felt unbridgeable and feel like your whole life is being brought into sharp focus by that moment, a perfect pocket of stillness. Even if that someone else is a book. A book that gives language for the things churning restlessly in your throat, so many little buzzing words that you can’t release and can’t swallow. A book that helps you build the kind of vocabulary that makes you feel less alone.

It was intoxicating to feel so clearly seen by Felix Ever After.

To say that I loved this book would be to indulge in criminal understatement. Felix Ever After glowed in my chest, pouring brightness into cavernous lofts inside me that I didn’t even know existed. A brightness as fierce as joy, and so exquisitely vast I felt twice as alive as the next person.

Still, this wasn’t an easy read by any stretch.

Sharp spikes of anger and fear are the heartbeat of this narrative that follows Felix Love—a 17-year-old Black trans boy—down the rabbit hole of his senior year. Felix, a talented visual artist, is vying for a unique slot at Brown University against Declan, a rival classmate and ex-friend, and their competition—and the uncertainty of Felix’s future—perches heavily on Felix’s shoulders. The absence of his mother is another thorn pricking his thumb, and his world continues to limp on without Felix hitting send on his drafted emails to her. Felix’s relationship with Ezra—which once felt settled, a carefully tended corner of friendship—begins to waver when Ezra starts dating one of their classmates.

But nothing knifes into Felix’s life more swiftly and more viciously than a transphobic act targeting him. Felix is caught in abject horror, spending every day fearing having his deadname and pictures of his pre-transition days sprung on him at every turn, always having to peer around the corner just to make sure. Determined, Felix Love sets out to find the person who’s tormenting him—and to make them pay.

What follow is a profoundly moving story about self-discovery, love and revenge that made my heart scramble and flounder so many times, but that ultimately winds to an end in a beautiful, warm, and unforgettable way.

I am Felix. No one else gets to define who I am. Only me.

Felix Ever After is a novel that probes achingly at gender identity like it is a loose tooth. It’s an honest and open discussion about how gender identity can be as amorphous and shifting as a cloud caught in the wind, and how a lot of us can feel lost in its wake, with nothing to hold on to, no arms to reach or hands to grip. And as if the journey to understanding our own identity isn’t enough, we must also deal inevitably with all the ways in which it can be perceived and affected by the outside world looking in.

This story felt deeply personal to me in so many ways. Like Felix, I had felt unmoored, spinning, for years. My gender identity sat inside me like an ill-fitting puzzle piece. It fit under my skin like an uncomfortable self that I couldn’t ignore once I acknowledged it. Unlike Felix—who is brave enough to run straight into things rather than barricade himself against them—I did my best to ignore it. And for years, I steadfastly avoided meeting its eyes. I was terrified, that much I know now. I didn’t like that sort of knowledge, how it bubbled up from a source I couldn’t put my finger on. I didn’t like not knowing my own self. In retrospect, I can see now how, in a slow upwelling of despair, I had clung to the idea that ignoring it would dilute it, diminish it somehow.

But a few months ago, while I was listening to the Penumbra Podcast—an audio drama that centers around a non-binary detective on Mars who uses he/him pronouns but refers to himself as a lady—the politely waiting truth cleared its throat, stepped forward, and reintroduced itself. Fiction has a way of awakening emotions that had lived underground for a long time, and something inside me simply gave way. Non-binary. Here is a word that felt true as I said it, that felt as though it had always been true, and had only needed knowing. Only this time, it was as easy as wishing. I felt my heart take root in my body, and though I was still terrified—I still am, sometimes, the world is a wretched place when you dare to be different—a serene certainty sang in me. For the first time in so many years I feel like I have a firm grip on myself, like all my tethers are once again drawn taut. Kacen Callendar—who talks in their author’s note about the episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation that had changed their life—understands this so acutely, and they press their experience into a novel that’s, in so many senses, a grateful nod and a celebration of the transformative effect of fiction.

“I’m not flaunting anything. I’m just existing. This is me. I can’t hide myself. I can’t disappear. And even if I could, I don’t fucking want to. I have the same right to be here. I have the same right to exist.” 

But while the novel presses, companionably, like a palm against the reader’s back, its hero is no stranger to loneliness.

Felix’s brand of loneliness struck me like hammers to a bell, and I rang with it, because it’s loneliness that I sometimes hear clattering through me. Unlike Ezra, Felix’s best friend, who can walk into a crowd of strangers and walk out with a group of friends, Felix has a habit of always sinking into himself, and like most habits, this one was hard to break. Keeping everyone at arm’s length becomes Felix’s way of girding himself against the fear that he would one day offer his heart, only to be told it wasn’t as precious as he had thought it to be. So he makes a silent plea in his head—to love and be loved, to be enough—even when it felt unattainable, like staring into a room full of warmth and always missing the door to enter it. Because at the bottom of that fear was Felix’s conviction that he wasn’t worthy of a love that came softly, of a love that wasn’t violence, and that every path he took to it would always be laid with agony.

But that was just being caught out of life, and Felix’s journey of learning to trust the wild, impossible sweetness of placing your love in the safe deposit of someone else’s heart, of letting them see you in all the ways that you are messy and hurt and lost and all the ways they made you want to be better, of accepting that you, in your entirety, are loveable, that you are enough, that you are worthy—it filled me with a pure, aching joy.

“It can be easier, sometimes, to choose to love someone you know won’t return your feelings. At least you know how that will end. It’s easier to accept hurt and pain, sometimes, than love and acceptance. It’s the real, loving relationships that can be the scariest.” 

Felix Ever After is a blisteringly honest and reverent book. Kacen Callendar writes their story like they’re facing it head-on, sinking deep, never cruising past anything—and the novel is all that much better for it. I hope every queer teen—and every queer adult, for the novel’s themes transcend its categorization—find their way to it, so they too might sink into its steady warmth, like a blanket drawn around their shoulders. 

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