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5 Reasons to Read Lily and Dunkin, a Trans Coming-of-Age Story

5 Reasons to Read 'Lily and Dunkin,' a Trans Coming-of-Age Story

5 Reasons to Read 'Lily and Dunkin,' a Trans Coming-of-Age Story

The only thing harder than putting Lily and Dunkin down, is realizing you’re on the last page. 

Although Donna Gephart’s forthcoming novel Lily and Dunkin is recommended for ages 10 and up, that didn’t stop my 23-year-old self from getting so engrossed in the story that I read the book in two long sittings. Lily and Dunkin follows Lily Jo McGother, a transgender girl navigating eighth grade and coming out to her classmates.

This is the cover of the book 'Lily and Dunkin'.

Along the way, she helps her father understand gender identity and befriends Norbert Dorfman, a New Jersey transplant who's dealing with bipolar disorder and a huge secret.

Here are 5 reasons this compelling book should be on everyone’s summer reading list:

1 Lily’s tale is a transgender coming-of-age story trans teens and parents of trans kids need to hear.

Lily and Dunkin was written in memory of Leelah Alcorn, the transgender teen girl whose suicide drew national attention in 2014. As I read the book, I couldn’t help but think about what this story could have meant to Leelah Alcorn and her parents.

Lily Jo McGother’s father does not immediately understand. He is paralyzed by the fear of what could happen to his daughter, and his own lack of knowledge about transgender issues. He doesn’t change in the first twenty pages of the book. His journey to accept his daughter lasts the length of the novel.

For transgender teenagers who lack parental support, Lily and Dunkin might make them feel less alone, and give them tools to talk to their parents. For parents with transgender children, this book might be the first step to understanding and accepting their child.

2. Lily is surrounded by love and support.

While there are many people in her life that don’t support her, Lily’s mother, sister and best friend, Dare, all come through for her. Not only does this send the message to trans children that they are worthy of love, support and really fun sleepovers with friends, but it also goes against the common narrative of a completely isolated transgender character.

Dunkin’s support for Lily comes and goes. She doesn’t come out to him right away, but he understands that she is different, and that she’s bullied in school for not being masculine enough. While he doesn’t have any problem with how she acts or presents herself, the popular boys at school do. Since Dunkin is desperate to fit in, he goes along with the crowd. For cisgender teens reading Lily and Dunkin, the book could provide a model for how to stand up and do the right thing, even when it’s scary.

3. Mental illness is handled in a realistic, humanizing way.

Norbert Dorfman, who hates his name and is nicknamed Dunkin by Lily, has to learn how to manage bipolar disorder during one of the most turbulent times of his life. Dunkin is funny, kind, and interested in unique hobbies. His medication helps him navigate the world, and lets his one-of-a-kind personality shine through. When Dunkin feels foggy and stops taking his medication, he experiences mania, depression and delusions.

Dunkin’s story never feels like an after school special. For young readers who are coping with mental illness, the book won’t make them feel like a nagging mom is lecturing them about taking their meds.  Dunkin has to figure out how to cope and live with a potentially debilitating mental health condition for the rest of his life. Because the book focuses on his perspective over his mother’s, it never feels preachy.

4. School bullying is addressed in a realistic way.

Complete with homophobic slurs, physical abuse, and a complete lack of adult intervention, Lily and Dunkin deals with school bullying in a way that most teen readers will (unfortunately) relate to. Lily’s main tormenter also isn’t a one-dimensional character, and the reasons he bullies other students are explained without being excused.

5. Lily and Dunkin is an amazing story.

Some books that grapple with heavy issues get bogged down in the issues and sacrifice the story. Lily and Dunkin strikes the perfect balance. Whether a reader’s life mirrors what the characters are going through or not, readers are able to identify and relate to the characters because they’re so well developed.

When I finished reading Lily and Dunkin, I felt like each character still had a life beyond the novel. I was curious about what they did after the period of time the book covers, but I was also satisfied that I’d gotten the chance to be a part of their lives for a short time.  

Lily and Dunkin will be available on May 3, 2016. You can pre-order the book here

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Cassie Sheets