If you have issues with any of the following, please reconsider reading this book or have someone vet it for you:
Abuse (physical, mental, sexual, emotional, verbal)
Body Modification and Description of Post-Surgery Events
Graphic Sexual Content
Rape and Sexual Assault
Trans* Degendering, or Anti-Trans* Views of Bodies
I honestly think I terrified the author himself when I told him I'd received a DRC in exchange for an honest review. No need to fear. It was well worth the heart-pounding Twitter exchanges, Mr. Wake. You get a solid "A+" with the expectation that there will be new and exciting works forthcoming from this very bad boy. Transgenderella, anyone?
“Imperfection” has never felt so perfect. This novel really should have pulled my hair and spanked my ass if it was going to mind f**k me so hard. Damn, I loved it. BAD BOY is a tale of broken characters, broken promises, and anti-heroes/heroines that will leave you doubting who to trust and what to believe.
Renard “Ren” Grant is a BAD BOY. That is, he doesn’t quite know how to be a boy. Currently, Ren is a trans YouTube star secretly working for the Black Iris underground vigilante group. He tracks down men who prey on women and 'convinces' them to change their ways. Things get personal when someone from Ren’s past is targeted by Black Iris, a cyber stalker calling himself 'Crito.' Crito heads a misogynistic organization of men who prey on and abuse women. A planned Iris investigation on Crito goes awry, throwing Ren into the path of new Black Iris recruit, Tamsin “Tam” Baylor. Tam’s connection to Black Iris awakens a web of lies that traces back to The Wolf, Laney Keating aka the leader of the Black Iris organization. Now, Ren's position within BI is compromised and he's unsure who to trust, including his long time best friend and former ex-girlfriend, Ingrid. Ren and Ingrid have their own problems; Ingrid has never been accepting of his gender identity, leading to a distancing during Ren's transition. But when another, darker predator comes knocking at Ren’s door, asking for the girl who no longer exists, he will have to pick sides and decide who his real friends are and which are playing his at weaknesses.
Both the reader and Ren will be questioning what is real until the very last scene unfolds. Even then, minds will be toyed with and lines crossed. BAD BOY a fast-paced read filled with sexual tension and high stakes. Memorable characters with distinct personalities are there to guide the audience through the maze of plot turns and revelations. This isn't a book to be missed and one that won't be overlooked. If you want a gritty, eye-opening look at controversial subjects going head-to-head with each other (female/male/trans rights), then BAD BOY is a must-read.
This novel took me on an emotional ride while teaching me things about hormones and gender differences I was honestly fascinated to learn. I’m a sucker for well-placed fiction that’s thoroughly researched. Oh, yes. Give me all of your facts and figures. Tell me about T levels and how they influence emotional regularity. The information was incorporated beautifully in a way that didn’t hinder the flow of the plot while enhancing Ren’s character. The information was given to me so effortlessly- not info dumped- and each piece had meaning. A well-placed factoid about men not crying as much as women due to testosterone levels here. How T changes your libido there. After all, this is a trans man’s story that’s written by a trans man, BUT IT IS SO MUCH MORE. It takes on subjects from every angle and makes you consider all sides of the argument before coming to a conclusion.
As for style, BAD BOY is beautifully written with poetical descriptions that border lyrical, ones you really don’t see with its genre anymore. I was engrossed in the environment, able to taste the salty skin of lovers and feel the pulsating nightclub music. My senses came alive through the simplest passages. It was electrifying. The publishers (Simon and Schuster) aren’t allowing any excerpts to be released before publication or else I’d give examples. Not that I’ve highlighted over 100 passages- okay, so it was more.
BAD BOY opened up my eyes to some of the potentially harming gender ideas I have previously held. Trust that I am by no means narrow-minded and or hold any phobias. I am a trained SAFE Zone ALLY (4+ years), feminist, LGBT+ activist, fall along the spectrum, and yet I still have so much to learn. Please, #ownvoices authors, teach me. I don't want to stop learning! (Edit: I've now come out publically as genderqueer, which I was struggling with while writing this review. HI! Pleasure to meet you.)
I’ve always taken the stance that gender roles were learned. ‘A man does Y and a woman does X.’ Yeah, well I’ll do whatever the hell I want to, genetics be damned. Living in the Deep South, it’s hard to have a gender neutral marriage where there are no wife/husband roles. Cue the banjos because I’ve been to too many baby showers or children’s birthday parties where boys wore blue, played with trucks and guns and were force-fed manly-man ‘my boy ain’t havin’ no dolls’ lines from birth. If not, they were seen as “sissy.” Girls were shoved into ruffles/tutus then given Barbies, shopping toys, and cleaning supplies because it’s what the culture was reinforcing. I’ve hated these constructs for so many years. The context of this novel opened my mind and allowed me to see past the negativity to the underlying identity. All we need to do is talk it out, be a little mindful, and share our feelings. I'm more compassionate. You're more compassionate. We're all more compassionate.
A person, regardless of gender, can identify with female or male oriented objects because it’s what feels right to them, it reflects their inner self. I’ve always been of the mindset that people do what is right for their mental and physical wellbeing. Don’t spend any more time being miserable than you have to. GTFO if you can. Raise your hand if you spent too long in a toxic relationship/environment. *looks around* I see we're all here and accounted for. Let's continue.
Seeing the transitioning experience was raw. People need this. It's not magazine covers and TV shows. The same glossed-over exposure once happened to mental illness until people spoke out. Transitioning is about inner turmoil and outer battles. It's not about cosmetics. It is not a choice. It’s a lifesaving procedure. Each day spent trapped in a foreign body is on borrowed time. Ren’s story will SHOW you how vital it is. Not tell you. It. Will. Show. You. It will rip your bleeding heart, watch it pulsate between his claws, and ask, “Do you get it now? Do you see how exposed and raw it feels?” Yes. Yes, I do. These tears are yours. Take them as an offering for your next work-in-progress, damn you.
One of my favorite parts was being able to identify with parts of this novel while not being trans myself. I felt such a connection and investment in the main character’s story. It is told from a place of “No bullshit, this is how it is. I am going to take you there- good, bad, ugly, and embarrassing.” I have body dysmorphia from 15+ years of eating disorders and am in recovery from self-harm. When Ren spoke about the complications of never liking what you see despite what others saw and wanting to crawl out of your body at any cost, I was in tears. Yes, again. Stop looking at me with those judgmental eyes. You are not my mother.
With dysmorphia, you can change yourself, have the surgeries, lose over 75-pounds, stop cutting, go to therapy, take the meds, fly over the magical rainbow, and have the world tell you you’re beautiful, but that person- your old sense of self- will always be staring back at you in the damn mirror, haunting you. The constant doubts never go away. You'll never be enough. And this is the first time I’ve seen it represented in a novel where I’ve been able to connect with a character and not felt self-pity or drenched in sorrow. It was strengthening to read someone else’s struggles even if they’re not identical to mine. I’m not at the point where I can write at length about my own history without relapsing. So, I say to you, Mr. Elliot Finley Wake, bravo and thank you.