Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin

I finished Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin a few days ago, but needed some time to organize my thoughts. This novel is incredible. Gut-wrenching, eye-opening, and just incredible.

Title: Golden Boy
Author: Abigail Tarttelin
Publisher: Atria Books
Expected Release: May 21, 2013
Source: publisher (NetGalley)


The Walker family is good at keeping secrets from the world. They are even better at keeping them from each other. 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 a highly successful criminal lawyer, determined to maintain the facade of effortless excellence she has constructed through the years. Now that the boys are getting older, now that she won’t have as much control, she worries that the facade 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? Will his friends accept him if he is no longer the Golden Boy? Who is Max Walker really?

Written by twenty-five-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.

The story is told through the voices of Max and those closest to him – six perspectives in all. I’m not sure the narration would have worked as beautifully any other way; so much insight would have been lost. Tarttelin has created characters so complex and multidimensional, it’s almost impossible to pin them down. I especially felt this with Max’s mother, Karen. As soon as the slightest judgment about her crept into my mind, her voice would soon narrate and make me see that things aren’t explained as simply as I’d like. Although I still disagreed with many of her actions, I gained sympathy for her, and could begin to understand why she made the choices she did.

Our society’s rigid views on gender can create overwhelming issues for people with intersex, especially as they come of age and start to think about all the ways their life will be different. Max is acutely aware that society is not going to change, and that is a major factor in the choices he makes. The abuse of trust Max experiences (be prepared – it is the worst possible abuse of trust) is horrific and devastating, but it is also a catalyst that forced Max into contemplating many facets of intersex he hadn’t yet considered. That’s a lot of heavy stuff all at once, on top of the usual adolescent angst.

In many ways, I could relate to Max’s father, Steve. I felt that I share some of his parenting philosophy – Max’s parents seem to be at opposite extremes from each other on that. Max’s struggles made me realize that, while it’s great to let your kids make their own choices, it’s also important to realize when they need guidance; some issues are just too difficult for them to navigate on one’s own.

This novel kept me up until the wee hours of the morning until I fell asleep against my will. I was completely involved in the story. Oftentimes my stomach would be in knots from sympathizing with him, from worrying about him. There were a few moments that completely and utterly shocked me. There were times I was shaken to my core. I felt angry that society is so stuck on a gender binary that people like Max, who are otherwise happy being who they are, aren’t free to be themselves. I hate that they often face enormous pressure to change, just to make the rest of us feel more comfortable. I cared about Max.

Golden Boy will be released by Atria Books on May 21, 2013. Everyone should read this book.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review.

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