Cover Reveal of Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker
“If it wasn’t for the whole fused-with-Zyx thing, I suppose I would just be normal—whatever that means.” When we went looking for one sentence from Felix Yz, my debut middle grade novel (due out from Viking June 2017), that would convey a clear idea of the whole story, it’s no surprise we landed on this one. It neatly encapsulates a key idea behind the book. Felix represents the start of my long-term project as an author to create good stories featuring LGBTQ characters without that being The Point, in hopes of expanding readers’ definition of the word “normal” in an empowering and inclusive way.
My sense of the narratives-for-young-readers landscape right now is that more and more stories are being created about what it’s like to have an identity outside the traditional binaries of sexuality and gender—to do the internal work of self-discovery, to come out, to deal with prejudice, to move towards first love, and so on. Fantastic! The world needs an abundant ongoing supply of such stories. And it’s fine that often these stories center on the sexuality and gender issues they address.
But what about stories in which, say, a young man fights zombies and also happens to be gay, or two young women save the world from a deadly virus while also incidentally exploring first love together, or a lonely teen travels to another world, while, oh by the way, also realizing a trans or genderfluid identity? There are fewer such stories as yet in the world, and I think we need an abundant ongoing supply of them too.
Reading such stories, young readers who have begun to feel attraction to people of the same gender, or to rethink their gender identities, might feel less alone. They might also enjoy for once not having to mentally edit a character, or, more poignantly, themselves, to be able to empathize fully, as readers who are in some way “other” routinely have to do—a subtle but insidious burden. I think it would also be valuable for cisgender heterosexual readers to have to do the mental edit for a change, to experience what it is like to be on the outside looking in.
Therefore: Felix is a thirteen-year-old boy fused with an alien. And he may be about to die during a risky procedure meant to separate them again. And he has a crush on a boy at school. And he has a quirky but close-knit family. And he’s discovering himself as a writer. And he has a bully problem. And a mom’s annoying boyfriend problem. Etc. Felix’s romantic/sexual identity drives one thread of many in the story. It matters, but it’s not the central focus.
My most passionate goal as a writer is to give solace and hope to kids who feel outside of the usual categories, as I myself did, growing up as a stifled, unexpressed trans girl. If, as a child, I had been able to read stories featuring young trans characters (there were none), I might have figured out who I was and what to do about it decades sooner. Such stories could have transformed my life.
My other passionate goal is to create deep nuanced portraits of LGBTQ kids in heroic roles so that readers who fit (mostly, more or less) inside the usual categories can see and feel that the fit-less-neatly kids are also regular humans just like them, with regular human strengths and weaknesses, just trying to survive their lives. Normal, in a word. I think both aims can be achieved by featuring LGBTQ protagonists in gripping high-stakes plots.
What *does* “normal” mean, anyway? The best definition I’ve heard is, the average of everyone being different. A good story that features LGBTQ characters without a preachy highlighting of identity gives all readers, gay and straight, trans and cis, a chance to see both themselves and others as having a legitimate place within the boundaries of this elusive thing called “normal.”
Lisa Bunker has written stories all her life. Before setting up shop as a full-time author she had a thirty-year career in non-commercial broadcasting, most recently as Program Director of the community radio station in Portland, Maine. Besides Maine she has made homes in New Mexico, southern California, Seattle, and the Florida panhandle. She currently lives in Exeter, New Hampshire with her partner and her cat. She has two grown children. When not writing she reads, plays piano and bass, runs, does yoga, and eats way too much crystalized ginger. You can follow her on Twitter @LisaBunker.
ABOUT THE BOOK: Felix is thirteen. When he was three, his cosmologist father’s science experiment went wrong and fused Felix at the atomic level with a hyper-intelligent fourth dimensional being named Zyx, who communicates by using Felix’s fingers to type. Felix won’t be able to grow to adulthood with Zyx inside him, and the story opens a month away from a risky procedure which will either separate the two of them again or kill them both.
The novel takes the form of Felix’s secret blog, chronicling his daily life and counting down to ZeroDay. Along the way, we meet Felix’s piano-genius sister, his hard-working mom, his gender-fluid grandparent, an Estonian chess grandmaster, and all sorts of other fascinating folk. There’s also a boy Felix likes at school, a bully, drawing, chess, jazz, family revelations, train-hopping, and lots of whimsy. Even when you’re probably about to die, Felix discovers, life keeps happening.