Title: Cinderella Boy
Author: Kristina Meister
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Length: 346 Pages
Category: Contemporary, Teen Fiction
At a Glance: This story was just gorgeous in its attempt to give a tiny window into the life that a non-binary/genderfluid person lives.
Reviewed By: Sammy
Blurb: Sixteen-year-old Declan is the perfect son . . . except for one tiny issue. When his sister Delia comes home to find him trying on her clothes, he fears her judgment, but she only fears his fashion choices. One quick makeover later, Declan is transformed into Delia’s mysterious cousin Layla and dragged to the party of the year, hosted by Carter, the most popular boy in school.
When Carter meets Layla, he fumbles to charm her. He adores her sense of humor and her poise. But when she vanishes in the middle of the night, he’s left confused and determined to solve the mystery of who she is.
As their school year begins, their high school embraces a policy of intolerance, and both Declan and Carter know they must stand up. Carter is tired of being a coward and wants to prove he can be a knight in shining armor. Declan is sick of being bullied and wants desperately to be himself. If they team up, it could be a fairy-tale ending, or a very unhappy ever after.
Review: When Young Adult stories are done right, they are simply marvelous. They appeal to any age audience and allow for the reader to see little glimpses of either their own memories or their current truths in every idea discussed. There is an almost universal appeal to a character who is written with such veracity and depth that the reader can feel each emotion that fictional person experiences. Author Kristina Meister offers up a beautiful coming-of-age, coming out story in her latest release, Cinderella Boy. But more than those conveniently boxed tropes, the author explores non-binary gender fluidity and the idea that a person can be both female and male and not always entirely comfortable in either skin all the time.
Declan, who is also Layla, lives in a tortured type of half-life, knowing they sometimes feel more male than female, but also feeling the need to be purely feminine. This constant war between genders and being forced to live a lie by choosing to present as only male has left them anxious and unhappy—unsure of how to feel and terrified that anyone would learn their secret. When their parents leave for a weekend and their sister goes off to a party hosted by the very boy they have had a crush on for quite some time, Declan is given a chance to let Layla breathe. Using their sister’s makeup and clothes, Declan transforms into the beautiful Layla, only to be discovered by the very sibling that was supposed to be long-gone from the house.
Instead of flipping out, Delia helps her brother, and Layla is born. Somehow she convinces them to then attend the party—the one hosted by Delia’s former boyfriend and Declan’s current crush, Carter. Once he sets eyes on the mysterious “cousin” Delia has brought to the party, Carter is smitten. As Layla and Carter grow closer, Declan is torn apart with guilt over not confessing their secret to Carter. In the end, Layla must disappear, but Carter still hangs around, and not just because he thinks he can get to Layla through her cousin Declan but because Carter is having strange feelings of his own.
This story is gorgeous. While I do feel the author gave an emotional maturity to her characters that was a bit above their pay grade, so to speak, this book still resonated for me. The idea of being trapped in a gender that doesn’t really convey who you truly are is just heartbreaking, and you can feel Declan/Layla’s emotional turmoil over their situation. Don’t get confused here—Meister has not simply written a tale about a cross-dressing high school boy but a detailed and deeply emotional story about a person who feels both feminine and masculine at any given time. The inner conflict this produces for Declan is overwhelming and pushes them into the loneliest of places, feeling that no one could ever understand what they themselves continually grapple with as well.
Yes, it could be argued that the way in which Carter and Declan intellectualize their attraction is a bit mature, and yet there are constant glimpses of the boys they are—young men on the cusp of adulthood and facing decisions that will influence the rest of their lives. This story was just gorgeous in its attempt to give a tiny window into the life that a non-binary/genderfluid person lives. We see the pain caused by the gender confusion, the need for acceptance, the desire to be loved not for just the feminine or the masculine side but for both. Cinderella Boy runs the emotional gamut and exudes hope and acceptance for the inner person we are all meant to be.
You can buy Cinderella Boy here:
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