Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Zenobia July

Bunker, Lisa. Zenobia July
May 21st 2019 by Viking Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edleweiss Plus

Zenobia has moved from Arizona, where she lived with her dysfunctional father after the death of her mother, and is now living in Maine with her Aunt Lucy and her wife Phil. She is starting a new school, and rather nervous about it, especially since she is a trans girl and no one at the new school knows her background. She wants to keep it that way, so is rather quiet. She does manage to make a friend, Arli, who has a lunch table full of friends who all have some trouble fitting in. Arli is gender queer, and does not identify as any gender, which has caused troubles at home. (The pronouns Arli uses are vo, ven, veir) Zenobia helps her teacher out with some computer problems, but before long there is a really big computer issue-- Chantal (who is Muslim and whom Arli calls Dyna), is the subject of racist threats on the school web site. Eager to find the hackers, Zenobia offers to investigate. In the meantime, one of her aunts' friends takes her shopping and gets her clothes that make her more comfortable, and she makes friends with Melissa. She is invited to Melissa's house for family games, and her mother is very comforting, but Melissa's family is very religious. When it turns out that another classmate, Elijah, is a trans boy, Melissa is not very understanding, and others in the school are negative enough that Zen really wants to keep her secret. Her aunts are supportive of her ups and downs with fitting in, and there are a lot of upsets. In the end, though, Zen is able to solve the hacker mystery, keep her good friends, and even trusts Arli with her identity.
Nota Bene: I have tried to get all of my gender language correct, but it is something that I struggle with. It does change, as well, so what is correct today may not be later.

Strengths: I really liked how Zen's identity was described-- she had just always felt like a girl, her mother and father struggled with it, and her aunts were supportive. There wasn't the concentration on hair and clothing (although those were mentioned) that I've seen in other books, which was a nice change. The middle school drama was accurate, and it wasn't all due to Zen's gender. I especially liked the computer interest and the hacking, and the way the teacher handled it was well done-- he took Zen's suggestions but the work was done by the school. Most of all, the love and support of the aunts was great.
Weaknesses: Like The Lotterys, the overabundance of divergent characters made the book less serious. Zen is a trans girl, Arli is gender queer, Elijah is a trans boy, the aunts are either a lesbian couple or Aunt Phil is trans (there are hints, and I wasn't sure, nor do I feel I was supposed to be sure), Arli's mother is perhaps also gender queer (Arli refers to his dad and his "parent") and Brad (Uncle Sprink) is a transvestite. This is a lot to process for middle grade readers who may ever have met anyone like these characters. I would have preferred it if Zen and Arli were the focus, and the other characters were more mainstream, since that would be more navigable for students, would highlight the Zen and Arli's difficulties against a background of binary characters, and also seem more realistic. There are also a lot of asides (Zen's conversations with god, other people's thoughts) that slowed down the plot.
What I really think: I am definitely going to buy it, but I wish it had been more streamlined so that the most important issues were highlighted and could be more easily understood by my students.

1 comment:

  1. I love your reviews. I have to say I liked the book even more than you, and though it may sound sanguine to say it, I think it was rather "perfect." I saw only strengths. Maybe because I read it as an adult rather than a middle-schooler (my kids both are teachers, but in the primary grades), but I could see only the deeply solid strengths you mention, and which you present very well.