Today on the site, we welcome Lisa Bunker, author of the just-released-yesterday Felix Yz! This Middle Grade debut features a gay protagonist, several other characters under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, and a whole lot more. Here’s the info:
When Felix Yz was three years old, a hyperintelligent fourth-dimensional being became fused inside him after one of his father’s science experiments went terribly wrong. The creature is friendly, but Felix—now thirteen—won’t be able to grow to adulthood while they’re still melded together. So a risky Procedure is planned to separate them . . . but it may end up killing them both instead.
This book is Felix’s secret blog, a chronicle of the days leading up to the Procedure. Some days it’s business as usual—time with his close-knit family, run-ins with a bully at school, anxiety about his crush. But life becomes more out of the ordinary with the arrival of an Estonian chess Grandmaster, the revelation of family secrets, and a train-hopping journey. When it all might be over in a few days, what matters most?
And here to talk more about the publication of the book is Lisa Bunker!
In the leadup to the publication of Felix, when I started getting reader reviews based on advance copies, one reviewer remarked that there were too many LGBTQ+ characters in the book. The queerness-density strained credulity, she said. (This comment about a story of a boy melded with a fourth-dimensional being.) There have been other similar remarks too, from other quarters.
Identity is not The Point of Felix. This is a coming-of-age novel about love, death, and family. It’s a story about a young human grappling with mortality.
That said, it is also true that among various other plot threads this young human has a crush, and as it happens both he and the crush were assigned male at birth. Likewise, Felix has a quirky supportive grandparent, and one of the quirks is that this grandparent switches off regularly between the names Vera and Vern (and uses veir own gender-neutral pronouns – vo ven veir). Also likewise, in the course of the novel, Felix’s mom navigates a love triangle, and as it happens the two love interests are one of each gender. Etc.
I approached the character design for Felix in a spirit of gleeful experimentation/play – just how many of these characters can I give at least one letter? You know, just to see how it reads? Turns out, most of them, and I love how it reads. But, each identity is no more than a facet, and not the most important facet, of the character in question. Not the preachy teachy Point; just lots of identities.
But, too many?
No. Dear reader-reviewer and other skeptics, upon reflection (and I have thought a lot about this), I feel the need to push back respectfully here. There are not too many queer characters in Felix. But I’m fascinated about why you might think so.
Consider: I recently read and was blown away by Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give. Quite apart from the ripped-from-the-headlines story and the clean, powerful writing, what a fantastic submersion into the rich variety of contemporary African-American life in its many manifestations – family and friend-groups and church and more. And there are plenty of other books in which all or almost all of the characters are from the same race, nationality, or religion. Such books seem within the norm, and they’re valuable and important and great fun to read.
So why not also books full of queer folk? Why so many books with one or two tokeny LGBTQ+ characters, but no more than some implied limit seems to allow? Well, perhaps it is not yet generally understood that queer folk also form community and have culture.
There are plenty of families like Felix’s. Mine, for example: I’m a trans woman in a committed relationship with another woman, and one of my two children is genderfluid. (My poor son – the token cis-het member of the family.) And there are many other clusters in my circle of acquaintance – friend groups, group houses, families of choice, community meeting places and flashpoints, both in the real world and online. We rainbow umbrella people are a misunderstood and often maligned sector of humanity, and part of our response to that is to seek and find each other. We join together for solace and strength. We have community and culture too.
Can you imagine anyone saying a book had too many Hispanic characters? Too many Jewish characters? Too many refugee characters? Me neither, thankfully, at least other than at the farther fringes of public discourse. But, it still seems reasonable to some people to say “too many LGBTQ+ characters.”
I aim to do what I can to rectify that. What started out as something of a writerly lark in Felix has evolved into a sense of mission. Moving forward, I aim to work toward a world in which no number of queer characters is too many. And I hope my books and others like mine will both give LGBTQ+ readers a much-needed chance to see their worlds celebrated in fiction, and also invite the general reading public to visit those worlds and perhaps discover, once again, the common bedrock of humanity that unites us all.
The story I’m working on now is about a trans girl with a troubled past and advanced coder/hacker skills who solves cyber-crimes with the help of her genderqueer best friend and her cool Lesbian aunties, while attempting to survive adolescence and middle school. Onward!
Before setting up shop as a full-time author and trans activist, Lisa Bunker had a 30-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, knits, takes long walks, does yoga, and studies languages. @LisaBunker on Twitter; author website at www.lisabunker.net.