Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin

goldenboy Title: Golden Boy
Author: Abigail Tarttelin (websitetwitter)
Pub. Date: May 21, 2013
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Atria!!)
Summary: Max Walker is a golden boy. Attractive, intelligent, and athletic, he’s the perfect son, the perfect friend, and a perfect crush for the girls in his school. He’s even really nice to his little brother, Daniel, a decidedly imperfect ten-year-old. Karen Walker is a beautiful, highly successful criminal lawyer, who works hard to maintain the facade of effortless excellence she has constructed over 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. Steve Walker is also a successful prosecutor, so much so that he is running for election to Parliament. The spotlight of the media is about to encircle their lives.

But the Walkers have a secret. Max was born with forty-six XX chromosomes and forty-six XY chromosomes, which makes him intersex. He identifies as a boy and so has been raised lovingly that way. When an enigmatic childhood friend named Hunter steps out of Max’s 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 and who will he be in the years ahead?
Genre: Contemporary, Adult

When I was little the doctors called me a hermaphrodite. It’s got a lot of stigma, but as a word on its own I like it better. It’s a thing. It’s not between things. It’s an ancient Greek word. It makes me sound old, like we were always around. I like that.

The Walkers are a perfect family. Steve and Karen are both highly successful in their fields, 15-year old Max is a straight-A student who would never dream of talking back to his parents or getting into fights, and 10-year old Daniel is perfect in that he isn’t perfect. On the outside, the Walkers have it all; they’re media darlings and everyone in town knows their names. Behind closed doors, however, the Walkers are hiding a secret.

Max Walker is the star of the football team. All the girls flock to him and he’s just a few tests away from the top schools. No one would assume Max is anything other than a normal teenage boy. Sure he’s a bit smaller than the other boys in his class, but his two best friends only just recently started shaving, and football has done wonders for Max’s muscles. He goes on dates with girls and leads a normal life.

Max’s secret never bothered him; it was who he was. After one of his closest friends does the unthinkable, however, Max suddenly becomes well aware of just how different he is. Max isn’t like the other boys – Max is intersex. He has both male and female organs. Until now, he’s managed to keep it hidden from the world; his dates with girls never went farther than kissing and while it’s not what Max wants, it’s worked so far. He’s earned a reputation at school as being a Love-Them-And-Leave-Them type and he does nothing to refute the claims.

With Hunter’s betrayal, Max is left in a whirlwind of questions, confusion, and anger. His father’s recent campaign announcement only adds to his distress. The Walkers are supposed to be the perfect family; how could they possibly explain their son’s pregnancy?

You hear about things going wrong during a birth, but when you’re pregnant and in labor, you never think it will happen to you. No one thinks theirs will be the baby with the problem. And then it was my baby, and it made me worry all the more acutely for the rest of his life, because I had been right to worry at the birth, because when it had been time to give birth, to do the most important thing I could do for Max, something had gone wrong.

Oh, wow. WOW. Guys, I was so not prepared for Golden Boy. I’m always up for a good – and tough! – read, but I wasn’t expecting this. That’s definitely not a bad thing though; the author tackled an extremely sensitive subject and I thought she did a fantastic job. Also: SHE’S ONLY A YEAR OLDER THAN ME WHAT.

I don’t get squeamish while reading and I rarely cringe at descriptions, so be warned: within the first few pages there is a VERY graphic rape scene. That alone could be enough to turn away many readers. Other triggers of note: attempted suicide, drug abuse, and abortions. So, yes, decidedly not a sunny day, sitting-on-the-porch kind of read. Despite this, however, I found myself absolutely captivated.

Hunter’s betrayal was one I had not seen coming. I took the summary to mean he leaked information to the media, not that he would rape Max and get him pregnant! Max and Hunter grew up together, their parents were best friends. The boys considered themselves cousins in a way. For Hunter to do such a horrible thing to Max was appalling. He took advantage of Max and his trust and left Max a shell of a boy. This happens very early on in Golden Boy and the novel is spent with Max – and his family – dealing with the repercussions.

Golden Boy alternates between a number of perspectives. We see the events through the eyes of Max, his parents, his brother, his doctor, and his girlfriend. Each one had a distinct voice and felt authentic. Max is understandably terrified and ashamed, his brother is worried and angry. Sylvie doesn’t know why Max’s moods have changed so abruptly or why he’s avoiding her. Karen blames herself for her son’s ‘illness’ and tries to make it go away. Every character felt raw and open and real.

Golden Boy is definitely not a book for everyone, but I greatly enjoyed it. It was tough and thought-provoking and powerful. I have a feeling both the characters and issues the story raised will stick with me for months to come. If you’re looking to step outside your comfort zone, Golden Boy is worth a read.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

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4 thoughts on “Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin

  1. Wow Leah, I don’t know what to say. It sounds like a book with a powerful message. You did an extremely thoughtful review of it.

    • Thank you! I’m not really a fan of ‘issue’ books, but this one got to me. I haven’t read a book dealing with this subject before and I was curious. This book definitely could have gone either way, but the author pulled it off wonderfully.

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