Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Arc Review: Zenobia July by Lisa Bunker

Zenobia July by Lisa Bunker. 316 p. Viking/ Penguin Young Readers Group, May 21, 2019. 9780451479402. (Review of arc courtesy of publisher.)

Happy Book Birthday next week (5/21) to Zenobia July, Lisa Bunker's highly anticipated sophomore novel. Prepare to have your heart touched.

The death of Zenobia's father, while sad, was actually liberating for her. The years between the death of her mother and then her father were stressful and repressive. She was homeschooled, isolated and felt like a constant failure to her dad. After his death, she was sent clear across the country to Maine to live with her Aunt Lucy and her wife, Phil. They give Zen the choice to live her life honestly. So she has a new name and a new life. It is thrilling and terrifying.

As she makes friends, and an enemy or two, a cybercrime is committed at school involving hate speech aimed at a Muslim student. Zenobia has some serious hacking skills and is itching to help her teacher solve this crime. She also jumps to a few wrong conclusions. 

She is a relatable character in that her anxiety over starting a new school and fitting in and finding friends is fairly common. So too, her push-me/ pull-you feelings about her aunts and her new living situation. They are all getting used to each other. Issues around gender identity are woven nicely into the story without becoming instructive or overwhelming. 

Zen has landed in a good place and is surrounded by supportive adults even though they themselves are new to parenting. The story is peopled with a diverse cast of interesting characters from the delightful Uncle Sprinkles, a drag queen friend of the aunts who takes Zen shopping and helps her with make-up tips to Arli, a fearless gender-fluid person eager to make Zen welcome.

All-in-all, Zenobia July is a perfect middle grade novel. I have quite a few students intensely interested in books with transgender characters and am deliriously happy to have a new title to add to the collection.

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