Stay Gold by Tobly McSmith (a review)
Genre: YA Contemporary
Length: 357 pages
Rating: 4.5 ⭐️
The novel follows two teens navigating high school. Pony is a trans boy who is going stealth and Georgia is a cheerleader with other aspirations. The two develop feelings for each other but their relationship quickly becomes complicated.
Pony is sweet and has an interest the film industry, and in particular the horror genre. He has a close relationship with his sister but a distant one with his father. Georgia is a popular cheerleader who is recovering from a humiliating heartbreak. She has an interest in journalism. She has a close relationship with her father but a complicated one with her mother.
While on the outside the two main characters are quite different, I liked how the author connected them with a core shared theme. Both seek acceptance from their peers and family and fear rejection. For Pony this comes in being seen as his true gender and having his correct pronouns used. For Georgia it comes in ignoring her interest in the school paper and career goals in order to maintain her popularity. Not every reader is going to be able to relate to the characters' specific conflicts/issues, but almost every young person is likely to be able to relate wanting to fit in and conform. It is something I very vividly remember desiring when I was the age of the characters.
There are quite a few minor characters including a dying actor named Ted whom Pony works for, Georgia's fellow cheerleaders, and football player named Jake who is competing for her affections. I wasn't overly fond of any of them besides Ted, though they all serve a purpose within the narrative.
The novel is told from the alternating first person perspectives of Pony and Georgia. I generally like first person as it allows the reader to be inside the mind of the character and better connect with them. For the most part this style worked well within the context of this novel. However, there were times the writing felt a bit unnatural and almost like it was more a dry statement of facts told to the reader than a flow of thoughts from the character. Thankfully, this happened less as the novel progressed. I do feel the novel will help trans teens to feel seen and help cisgender people like me have a better understanding of what trans people have to go through.
The novel had overall solid pacing. The relationship between Pony and Georgia became very intense very quickly, but I would not refer to their romance as instalove. Instead, I'd refer to it as instant attraction that developed naturally into affection. The ending, however, was a bit rushed. Everything was wrapped up in a neat little bow, some of which didn't feel entirely genuine.
Diversity and representation in literature of all kinds is important and needs to be supported. If you're interested in this novel based on my review, then I urge you to pick it up. The novel isn't imperfect, but it made me emotional at times and I personally feel any good story should invoke emotion from its reader. That being said, if topics such as transphobia and suicidal ideation are triggering to you please be aware that both are present within this novel.