I come out of hiding once again like an anxious little mole. The thing I learned about staying home during this darkest timeline is that “extra free time” comes with a HUGE disclaimer that’s deviously written in tiny scrawl, and in Papyrus to boot. As free time goes up, productivity plummets. Hard. So my schedule has been thus: waking up all pumped up and wanting to be productive, getting heavily distracted, staring off into space, remembering I have things to do, rinse and repeat. Everyone who’s been able to tackle dozens and dozens of books during quarantine, my hat goes off to you and I very much want to steal the secrets to your superpower, because I’ve barely been able to read four books per month since April.
There was also the niggling anxiety of feeling like I’ll be erased from the blogsphere if I don’t post consistently during this time when everyone is home, which led to more anxiety, and…. well–that’s a topic for another day.
But I hope you’ve been well and keeping safe, and I’m looking forward to catching up with you all! <3
Today I have a special buddy read collab review (collabview?) with the darling Pei of Pei Reads, who is sunshine and starlight stirred into a pot and poured into an adorable mold.
We hope you enjoy!
Yahoo, gentlefriends and gentleenemies and gentleenemies-soon-to-be-lovers (we see you). On this fine post-Pride day we have double the reviews and double the fun. Peikat (Pei + Kathy = delicious chocolatey wafery goodness) here with our first ever buddy read and review!
We’d planned for June to be an entire month of Pride buddy reading and reviewing, but plans are for people with a better grasp on reality and time than either of us, so we’re extending it to a full summer of rainbow goodness and joy.
Our first book is Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender, released May 5th, 2020 by Balzer + Bray.
What starts out as a revenge story, an anger-fueled story, becomes an introspective, heart-forward narrative about experiencing love and life to the fullest, and flipping the lens to see where you fit in this world. Felix Ever After isn’t a romcom fairy tale where the hero collects all the friends, defeats the baddies, and rides off with the love of their life. Mistakes get made. Bridges get burned. Life offers its slivers of heartbreak and casual pain on a platter because that’s typical behaviour for life and no one’s going to convince it otherwise. But the dark moments make the eventual triumphs burn all the brighter, and the interplay of the two makes Felix my favourite YA contemporary of the year so far.
Callendar’s approach to the narration is a beautiful example of what first person can achieve, especially in YA. It’s raw. It’s winding. It’s messy to its bones. And with a story that tackles so many of the nuances of queer adolescence, and the confusion and wild joy that comes with it, messy is the minimum of what it needs to be, and the author fully delivers on that. Felix is layers of flaws and wonder, all of which Callendar portrays vividly, holding the latter up to the sky without downplaying any of the ugliness. He’s a teenager sitting in the middle of a trifecta of personal markers – trans, demi, black – that he tries to get comfortable with. He’s the soul of every artist with dye-stained fingers and sleep-deprived poets who talk about love like it’s something you need in order to breathe. He’s a hurt kid who lashes out in anger because that’s the one thing he can control in that moment, and because anger is preferable in the face of helplessness. When it comes to her lead–and any of the characters, really–Callendar never takes the shallow route. It’s gorgeous, heartfelt stuff.
The notion of art is so entwined with the narrative, of the self-portraits that we all paint in our minds, and the way Felix explores it makes my heart soar. Whether it’s his love for a particular piece, or doubts regarding his own work, or him trying to reconcile with the thought that he’s surrounded by peers who seem to be naturals, whereas he has to work so hard to match a fraction of their talent, there’s passion and longing wedged into every word. My boy is so relatable that it hurts to read at times.
And quite often I was reminded of Keating’s lines from Dead Poet’s Society. This one in particular:
To quote from Whitman, ‘O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?’ Answer. That you are here — that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?
This story is Felix’s journey in trying to figure out what that verse could be, in all facets of his life. Of wanting to feel secure in his skin, but challenged with walls of bigotry and confusion; to create art but getting tangled up in his insecurities; to experience love but fearing ghosts present and future. And what I loved especially is that for every cut he receives–every blind ignorance and hatred that’s thrown at him–there’s a counterbalance of warm support, casual acceptance, and acknowledgments that while this is not a world they’re familiar with, they’re still willing to learn more about it and grow.
My one gripe is that the last stretch of the book feels abridged in terms of character work compared to the rest. It’s probably the slow-burn maniac in me shaking fists, but it could have easily been longer to better highlight some of the relationship transitions, because for someone who ruminates on everything Felix moves on from certain events without much of a thought.
In the end, Felix Ever After is a fierce reminder of love existing in all shape and form, and that your identity, cast in stone or not, questioning or not, is a thing to hold to your chest and nurture and let loose into the world with pride.
Rating: 8.5/10 (Excellent)
Felix Ever After is a beautiful celebration of trans identity and discovery. The writing is engaging and poignant, with emotional and deeply personal scenes that tug at your heart and make you feel. The story follows Felix Love as he sets out to get revenge on the anonymous student who’s been trolling him online with transphobic messages and a gallery displaying Felix’s deadname with pictures of him before his transition, and along the way, ends up developing feelings he has to sort out while trying to figure himself out.
Felix’s character is wonderfully nuanced, with layers of confusion and confidence and yearning interwoven, and the side characters, each with their own secrets and motivations, balance out the cast well. There is Ezra, his best friend, fiercely loyal and protective, and Marisol, complicated and haughty. Their relationships aren’t always perfect in the way they sometimes are in fiction. There are fights and betrayals and tears, and that resonated painfully with me, making this story hit even closer to home. It was a jagged reminder of the growing pains that comes with discovering yourself, in shedding toxic friendships and entering new chapters in your life.
Callender’s writing is engaging and honest, and one of my favorite parts of the book were the text conversations Felix has, where his longing to be loved and as his fierce pride for his identity are laid out in a beautifully poetic way. The book walks the reader through Felix’s quest to understand himself as well as develop his identity as an artist while he navigates complicated friendships. I loved the depth in which these relationships were explored, but when the book comes to a climax in the latter pages, the resolution of certain relationships seemed a little bit rushed.
This book made me laugh and cry and cycle through thousands of emotions in between, and I absolutely loved it. The story is messy and complex, punctuated by lost friendships and pain, but the end result is heartachingly lovely. It’s the story I wish I could have read as a queer teenager struggling to understand herself, and the story I hope everybody can come across because it still reaches into your chest and touches you in a way that is so wonderful and special. It’s a celebration and such an absolute joy to read. I cannot recommend this book enough to all readers in all its raw, unfiltered queer glory.
Overall, we both really enjoyed this book and had a lot of fun reading it together. First buddy review was a success! Please stay tuned for part 2 of our review where we ask each other invasive questions regarding how the themes of the book relates back to our own experiences! Peace out, sleep well.
[…] First buddy review was a success! If you liked this post, please show Kathy some love over here as well. Tell her Pei sent you with hugs and cookies. Please stay tuned for part 2 of our review […]
Yahoo, welcome back blogger Kathy!! I say, as if we haven’t been talking every day. Anyways, I had lots of fun doing the buddy read & review and am excited for our next one!!!!
Hey Kathy (and Pei!)! It’s good to see you and with this incredibly fun duo review because this book is high on my wishlist! Happy you loved it and you are so very right about the more time you have meaning less productivity. I have definitely been there. I’m happy to see you here, as always. ❤️
Jennifer!!!!! <3 How has everything been for you?? I hope you've been safe, and your family (and kitties) all well and good?
I've been recommending this book left and right, and the last time I checked the physical copies were sold out on most retailers, which I'm taking as a good sign. 🙂
❤️ I am hanging in there, Kathy. We are all safe and trying to keep from getting overwhelmed with the new normal. You are so right- I think that’s one thing that stopped me from getting the book when I thought of it because it was sold out. I hope to see you around as you feel up to it. It brightens my day every time! Xoxoxo
Ahh that’s good to hear. All the love and hugs to you as always. I think hanging in is the best we can do right now. ❤ And I saw today that Felix came back in stock! My friend managed to snag a sprayed edge copy the other week and I was very jealous. 😀
Yay, welcome back Kathy (and Pei)! Good to see you back, and with a glowing review, no less! 😀
Ola!! Glad to be back! <3 I've been trying to get myself adjusted to the new block editor, and failing quite miserably
I know the pain! But the good news is that you don’t have to use it yet – the old one’s still available! 🙂
Ohhhh my goodness you’re right, there’s an option to switch back to classic editor. Huzzah! I spent hours yesterday grumbling about how I can’t find anything in the new version. Thank you! <3
You’re welcome! 😄 It was the plight of the bunch of us recently, that horrible new WP editor 🤣
[…] Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky: Ohmygosh, I could gush about Kathy and her blog forever and ever, because I just positively love it. Her books reviews are some of my favorites, because they are honest, written with such a clear voice that is uniquely hers and such a joy to read, and offer such a great perspective into what works for a book and what doesn’t. I just adore her and as someone who doesn’t read a lot of book reviews (oops), I almost always read any she writes. […]
Welcome back Kathy! Loved this duo review with Pei, I haven’t read Felix yet, but I hope to during this year! It sounds like this book is filled with such beautiful messages about love, identity and acceptance!💗💗
Ahh thank you, love!! I missed you!!! <3 I feel like this year has been me popping in and popping back out on repeat. Hopefully I can maintain some motivation for the rest of the year. And I hope you love Felix when you get to it. It's such a feel-good story, and I really needed it with everything that's going on
Glad to see you back here, Kathy! <3
Also, super glad you liked Felix Ever After–I want to check that one out at some point.
I hope you get a chance!! I don’t gush a lot about YA contemporary MCs but I ADORED the narrative voice in this one. It really made me want to check out Callender’s Queen of the Conquered too