I love how complex each character was in this book. Max’s parents, Karen and Steve, have such different parenting styles. These were not characters you had figured out as soon as you met them. I connected with Steve but Karen pissed me off over and over again. Yet, as soon as I started feeling judgy, Karen’s voice would return, I’d understand her perspective a little more, and I’d feel ashamed. God, I love when an author can do that…gently show us our own judgemental feelings and guide us around a bit.
Agreed. Tarttelin even uses words like “coolly” and “isolated” to describe Karen, but I guess that goes along with the territory of being a criminal lawyer. It did make me feel as if she was the one trying to control Max’s story more—even by the end, I felt that. I also thought that not giving Steve a narrative voice until the last part of the book was interesting. I wasn’t sure if it was to show that he really was removed from them or excluded. I wanted to hear more from him. I felt like his take on Max was the more appropriate one. Of course, I don’t have children and the way the medical community handles anything out of the “norm” is so arbitrary that I don’t know how I would have acted.
I absolutely loved the way Tarttelin played with the narration. Sometimes the multiple perspective thing is so unnecessary, but it totally worked with this one. I thought it was so smart to add a doctor’s perspective, because it prevented us from getting scenes like, “My name is Max, I’m intersex which means…” and added another dynamic that was really necessary.
I just finished reading it again and forgot how long it took me into the plot to understand Max’s situation. Especially with the rape happening so quickly. It was horrible but I didn’t even fully understand how it was happening. I have to wonder how comfortable he was with himself or was he so poorly informed about his own body?
I was completely floored by the opening rape scene, especially since Hunter was a close childhood friend who’d always known about Max. I was also horrified at how quickly Max’s sense of self unraveled. That was heartbreaking, because he otherwise seemed so happy and comfortable with himself before that happened.
I think he was fairly well informed about his own body in the sense that he knew enough to go to Archie and ask for the morning after pill. At the very least, he knew enough to fear Hunter due to his knowledge. We don’t really know a ton about Max before, but many descriptions of him come from others—I wonder if he was just good at projecting happiness and self-confidence, which is what his family expected, when he really felt the opposite.
Maybe this is because of the recent challenges to Planned Parenthood, but as I was going through the book again, I couldn’t help but wonder how Max’s situation would be different if he was a fifteen year old seeking medical treatment without parental consent in the US instead of the UK. I feel like there would be roadblocks at every single turn.
This is from the book’s discussion questions: Steve says that if he and Karen take away Max’s “right to his own choices . . . he stops making decisions for himself, he forgets how to stand up for himself and things like this happen. People like Hunter will happen to him.” (pp. 329-330) Do you agree? Was Steve or Karen somehow to blame for what happened to Max?
I thought this was a powerful point but I don’t think it is completely true. Much of what Max felt he put on himself, rightly or wrongly. He felt, by his very being, that he was already such a burden to his parents, that asserting himself was something he wouldn’t consider. I’m not sure there is anything his parents could have done, except more conversation about sex—and that was a failing. Although given Max’s own description of his genitalia I imagine they never thought someone would try and have sex with him as a woman. I guess I’m conflicted on this point because I did feel as if Max was not able to stand up for himself and yet, Hunter was clearly a predator.
I definitely think there should have been a more open dialogue within the family, though I hesitate to say the lack of dialogue is to blame. Hunter is to blame, not Max’s fear or inability to stand up for himself.
My initial reaction is to say, “You can’t blame anyone but Hunter.” But Steve touches on something I can’t fully ignore: the role of society in all of this. Yes, people should be free to be themselves without fear of being attacked for who they are, and without feeling pressure to change just to make others feel more comfortable around them (or to assure their own personal safety). But sadly, that’s not reality. Something devastating (not necessarily violent) was bound to happen to Max. It wouldn’t matter how many decisions he made for himself, or how well he stood up for himself—this is the society people who are intersex, transgender, queer, etc. live in.
You can read our reviews at:
What did you think about Golden Boy, readers? How would Max’s story have differed if he were seeking medical attention on his own in the States? Do you think Hunter was the sole party responsible for what happened to Max, or did other factors come into play? What do you think about the way his parents handled his gender identity?