Golden Boy

Golden Boy
Age Range
Release Date
May 21, 2013
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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 façade 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 façade 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? What else are they hiding from Max about his condition and from each other? The deeper Max goes, the more questions emerge about where it all leaves him and what his future holds, especially now that he's starting to fall head over heels for someone for the first time in his life. Will his friends accept him if he is no longer the Golden Boy? Will anyone ever want him — desire him — once they know? And the biggest one of all, the question he has to look inside himself to answer: 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.

Editor review

1 review
Heartbreaking, Honest Portrayal of Intersexuality
Overall rating
Writing Style
What I Loved:
This cover is a strange one, and, once I knew what the book was about, I can see what they're doing, subtly calling out the gender issues with the two bikes, one intended for males and one for females. Why moving a bar from straight to slanted suddenly makes a bike girly or changes it in any practical way, I can't say. Still, I do think it's a shame there's nothing on the cover to speak to the subject matter, because I seek out books about different sorts of sexuality/gender and would have missed this.

Golden Boy tells the story of Max, a handsome boy who seems perfect in every respect, popular, athletic and intelligent. Max has a secret, though: he's not actually a boy. Nor is he a girl. Max is intersex, the new politically correct term that replaced hermaphrodite. Because Max has both a penis and a vagina, he's avoided serious relationships, though he has developed a reputation because he makes out with a lot of different girls. His being intersex didn't really impact his life.

Until it did. At a family party, Hunter, Max's best friend growing up, rapes Max. The scene is rather graphic and intensely emotional. Max has always felt like a boy, and not really questioned that. With this incident, Max has to truly face that he's not a regular boy, and, in the fallout, so does his family. What follows is an honest, beautiful, heart-wrenching look at Max's journey to become comfortable with who he is and to decide who he wants to be as an adult.

The subject matter in Golden Boy is quite dark and unflinching at times. The discussion of the issues of being intersex is frank and honest. However, Tarttelin makes the brilliant storytelling move of including more than just Max's perspective, which cuts on the melodrama. She does six separate perspectives: Max, his family (mother, father, little brother), his girlfriend Sylvie, and his doctor Archie (a woman). Since I listened to the audiobook, I can't say how individual they felt in print, but in the audiobook they were all brilliantly performed, with a narrator for each perspective.

In some books with multiple perspectives, characters are added for no discernible reason at all, not adding anything to the narrative, or particular perspectives are incredibly boring, to be suffered through while the reader waits impatiently for the main character to return. Not so with Golden Boy. Each perspective brought something to the table, even Max's father's, which only appears twice. Max is so confused and lost and depressed that it's wonderful to see him from an outside perspective. Daniel, for instance, hero-worships his brother. Sylvie thinks he's hot. Neither of them know, of course, but we get a true look at the golden boy. Then there's his parents, who love him and do the best they can, but, through their perspectives, the reader really gets a sense of how uncomfortable they are with his intersexuality now that it's known he's actually of age for sex.

Archie's point of view adds a whole other dimension. As a doctor, when Max comes in, he really lights a fire in her when she realizes how little she knows about being intersex. Her medical schooling included almost nothing on the subject. She begins to really research, because she very much wants to help Max, who comes to her office the day after his rape for a morning after pill. Archie's perspective really drives home how little attention the medical community is paying to such gender issues and how much they push to "normalize" with surgery.

Since there's a lot I would spoil if I went any more into the plot, I'm going to speak in general terms. The way Tarttelin wrapped everything up is incredibly touching and what convinced me this book deserved the full five stars. Some of the choices Tarttelin made surprised me, but they were just right. I'll leave it at that.

If you're going to read this book, which I really think you should, the audiobook is an excellent choice. With six talented narrators giving voice to the six perspectives, there's a strong sense of voice. The narrators for Max and Sylvie are particularly compelling. I've listened to quite a few full cast narrations, but this one is I think the best I've read so far.

What Left Me Wanting More:
Can't think of a thing.

The Final Verdict:
LGBT (I know this doesn't cover everything, but the term QUILTBAG looks a bit silly - I intend this as all-encompassing) issues have not been covered nearly enough in fiction and I love Golden Boy merely for existing. However, Golden Boy is not just wonderful for covering a tricky, sensitive topic, but for doing so with heart, honesty and compassion. Abigail Tarttelin, welcome to my auto-read list.
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