Group Discussion: Felix Ever After

felix ever after

A bright spot for us this month has been reading Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender. It’s such an incredible book, and the perfect read to kick off Pride Month! You can order it here, and check out an excerpt here.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge what is happening right now in America. If you can, we hope you’ll attend a protest, hold your elected officials accountable, or donate to a local bail fund, mutual aid fund, and/or organizations working to create a more just society and end police brutality. Here are some suggestions and resources:

In addition, three wonderful debut YA books by Black authors released just yesterday! They are:

3 debut ya books by black authorsWe’re super excited for these three books. Don’t forget to order them or request that your local library buy them! Now, without further ado, read on for our group discussion of the book — and comment to let us know your thoughts on the book! (Note: There will be spoilers.)

Let’s start at the beginning. Actually, before the beginning: The dedication page. It reads “For trans and nonbinary youth: You’re beautiful. You’re important. You’re valid. You’re perfect.” What does this note mean to you? How did it set the tone for the novel

Jessica: For me, it spoke to something Felix learns over the course of the novel — that he’s worthy of love. It’s such a beautiful and powerful note to start the story on, and one that I think many youth, especially trans and nonbinary ones, need to hear.

K. Imani: I loved the dedication! It was filled with love and celebration which showed me this book was going to be about that. I knew this was going to be a positive book, not one that would focus on pain and that we were going to have a happy ending.

Crystal: This dedication let us know that this book was going to celebrate trans and nonbinary youth and give them a encouragement to be themselves. It hinted that this was going to be an uplifting story rather than one filled with tragedy and we can definitely use more of those.

Audrey: The dedication was lovely for all of the reasons you named–it was a promise that no matter what difficulties Felix encountered, he was going to wind up believing those things, too, by the end. I was so happy to start off the book with that dedication in mind.

Going off of the first question, something Felix reflects on is this belief that he’s one marginalization too many to be worthy of love — he’s Black, queer, and transgender. How did you see this intersection of race, gender, and sexuality playing into Felix’s relationships, friend dynamics, and personal journey? 

K. Imani: The fact that Felix believed that about himself broke my heart. The fact that he didn’t think himself worthy just made him sabotage his relationships, and even his own sense of his talent, so many times. Though, it made his journey of self-love all the more poignant as he really needed to love himself first before he could truly love anyone else. And now he is in a much healthier place, more so than many adults, and is able to give of his heart honestly. I feel like kids seeing his self-doubt and uncertainty will be able to understand that we all go through that (Felix even learned this by opening up to Declan) and that we all have our moments, but we are all worthy of love.

Crystal: Felix is so uncertain about labels and how many labels are piling up. He feels that if someone sees beyond one label, they will run right into another, and another. He doesn’t think people will see through to him and even if they do, will they like what they see when they get there? In all the anxiety that’s stirred up, Felix fails to see the love and friendship offered to him. But he does keep searching and growing and begins to realize that we are fluid and nobody has to arrive and know for sure that they’ve figured themselves out. We are always becoming.

Audrey: It hurt to see Felix run into the “one marginalization too many” worry, especially since there were great discussions within the book about how labels are a way to feel less alone/realize that there were others like you. (I also appreciated the discussion about how some people feel too confined by them or don’t feel like they ought to be necessary.) The bigotry Felix encountered at different points in the novel (especially about being trans) really cut deep for those reasons. I was so glad that Felix was able to learn more about himself over the course of the novel–and that he took steps to take care of his own well-being.

Jessica: When Felix says that he is one marginalization too many, it reminded me of the theme of a QACON (Queer and Asian Conference) held at UC Berkeley that I attended in 2017 — “Enough.” As in, “we’ve had enough of bigotry” and also the affirmation that “we are enough.” Seeing Felix’s life through his lens gave a lot of nuance to the story, right down to the descriptions of character appearances. And I loved that Felix’s understanding of who he is continues to evolve in the novel — i.e. when he realizes that he’s a demiboy. I’m really happy that this is a book that QTPOC teens can find on the shelf.

Throughout the novel, Felix has his heart set on a scholarship to Brown. But, he’s fighting through a creative block, and spends a significant amount of time just trying to get started on his portfolio pieces. What was your takeaway from Felix’s creative journey? Did it speak to any larger themes in the book?

Jessica: Oof. Being afraid to fail, and therefore afraid to just go for it and try, is way too familiar of a feeling. I grew up in an absurdly competitive academic environment, and my school instilled in everyone a deep, deep fear of failure. As adults, many of my old classmates and friends are still unlearning this fear that if you fail, you aren’t worthy — and if you think you might fail, don’t even bother trying. (Sidenote: Read Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert, which also speaks to this really well.) Felix’s creative block tied really neatly tied into his feelings about being one marginalization too many — it’s the feeling of being unworthy and undeserving. But as the dedication page says, youth like Felix are valid. All of this, it’s just so well-written!

Crystal: This worry about perfection is a common difficulty in the creation of art. We’re so fixated on creating the next great work of genius, that putting anything on the paper is daunting. When we build up perfection in our minds, it is paralysing because we believe we might disappoint ourselves. In the beginning, I’m not sure if Felix is even sure what perfection in himself would look like. Felix is still avoiding mirrors and selfies. Also, I second that recommendation of Picture Us in the Light.

K. Imani: Felix’s self-doubt about his art was a whole mood. I know so many people, even established people, that feel this way about themselves. I’m glad that part of his journey was also included in the story as it really showed how even though we hear how good we are at a thing, we are our own worst critics, but that we can overcome self-doubt and explore our creative potential. Many kids, like Felix, look for outward approval when they really need approval from themselves. Felix’s journey showed this process beautifully.

Audrey: Ooof, the struggle to get started on a creative project really hit home for me. Luckily none of my creative stuff has ever had that much pressure riding on it. I found it interesting that while Felix was really focused on feeling like he was unworthy of love, he had getting into Brown as the metric to prove that he was good enough. No wonder he had such a hard time getting started on his portfolio! At the same time, I also thought it was pretty cool that Felix’s work on his self portraits mirrored his own emotional  journey and helped him define himself.

Social media plays a major role in Felix Ever After. It is both deeply harmful and incredibly uplifting at times. What are your thoughts on social media’s role in the novel? Also: Who was your favorite character? Did you have a favorite character dynamic/relationship?

Audrey: I think that social media played a similar role in Felix’s life as it does in real life–it’s a tool that can boost some great moments but one that can easily be abused. Those highs and those lows made the novel that much more realistic. As for favorite characters (besides Felix, of course), I really loved Ezra, and I was very happy with Leah. I’m such a softie for characters who are fiercely protective of their friends, and Ezra and Leah had several moments to shine when it came to that.

Jessica: My absolute favorite was Bex. They’re just so cool! And I think it’s super important for teens to know that there are queer elders and adults and leaders who are more than happy to reach out a hand and help. I loved that Felix wasn’t alone as he figured things out — that he found a group of people at the LGBT center to talk to.

Crystal: We often laud social media for providing a way to connect. We are able to talk at all hours of the day via text, audio, video, and who knows what else in the future. With all of those avenues for connection, there are also more ways for people to abuse the ease of connection and get at us where we are vulnerable and that was the case here. Instagram is supposed to be a fun light-hearted place to interact – not a place to get attacked. I was glad that Felix had people who were eager to reach out in care and love. Bex was great at the gender group. They made a bit of a mistake, but they made sure to do some repair work and be welcoming.

K. Imani: Social media is very ingrained in the lives of teens these days and I found that the use of it was reflective of teens’ lives. Social media has the power to destroy but it also has the power to bring people together. I feel like displaying both sides in the book showed the reality of how teens interact with and use social media. As for my favorite character, aside from Felix, Ezra was my favorite. I feel like he is the definition of a good friend – someone who has your back, but also is not afraid to tell you your truth.

To wrap things up, let’s discuss our TBR pile. What QTPOC YA books are you looking forward to reading? 

Jessica: I’m really looking forward to I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee! I’m just so ready for the kpop content, yaknow?

Crystal: Henna Wars is the newest one I’m looking forward to, but I also missed Black Flamingo when it came out so I’ll be watching for both of them.

K. Imani: I just ordered George M. Johnson’s “All Boys Aren’t Blue” so I’m looking forward to reading his memoir.

Audrey: Next up for me, I’ve got We Unleash the Merciless Storm by Tehlor Kay Mejia.