Golden Boy: A Novelby Abigail Tarttelin
2014 LAMBDA LITERARY AWARD FINALIST
WINNER OF THE 2014 ALEX AWARD
BOOKLIST TOP 10 FIRST NOVEL OF 2013
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL BEST BOOK OF 2013
Max Walker is a golden boy. Attractive,/i>/i>/i>
"This is a gripping and fully-realized novel." —Emily St. John Mandel, National Book Award-nominated author of Station Eleven
2014 LAMBDA LITERARY AWARD FINALIST
WINNER OF THE 2014 ALEX AWARD
BOOKLIST TOP 10 FIRST NOVEL OF 2013
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL BEST BOOK OF 2013
Max Walker is a golden boy. Attractive, intelligent, and athletic, he’s the perfect son, the perfect friend, and the perfect crush for the girls in his school. He’s even really nice to his little brother. Karen, Max’s mother, is determined to maintain the façade of effortless excellence she has constructed through the years, but now that the boys are getting older, she worries that the façade might soon begin to crumble. Adding to the tension, her husband Steve has chosen this moment to stand for election to Parliament. The spotlight of the media is about to encircle their lives.
The Walkers are hiding something, you see. Max is special. Max is different. Max is intersex. When an enigmatic childhood friend named Hunter steps out of his past and abuses his trust in the worst possible way, Max is forced to consider the nature of his well-kept secret. Why won’t his parents talk about it? What else are they hiding from Max about his condition and from each other? The deeper Max goes, the more questions emerge about where it all leaves him and what his future holds, especially now that he’s starting to fall head over heels for someone for the first time in his life. Will his friends accept him if he is no longer the Golden Boy? Will anyone ever want him—desire him—once they know? And the biggest one of all, the question he has to look inside himself to answer: Who is Max Walker, really?
Golden Boy is a novel you’ll read in one sitting but will never forget; at once a riveting tale of a family in crisis, a fascinating exploration of identity, and a coming-of-age story like no other.
“Abigail Tarttelin has written an unforgettable novel. Golden Boy pulls you in from the very first page and holds you tight, gripping you by the throat and not letting go until it reaches its brilliant and masterful conclusion. Max Walker is the golden boy, and you will root for him, cry for him, fear for him, at times get angry at him but guaranteed you will never forget him. Not ever. The characters who make up Max's universe, from determined Karen, to distant Steve, to a deceitful Hunter, are all written in a perfect pitch. The dialogue is real, the pace is stealth bomber fast, and the plot never lets up. Tarttelin has blasted it out of the park in her first at bat here in the States. She has written a novel that goes beyond the page and reaches into a reader's heart and stays there, never to leave, never to be forgotten. Golden Boy is that good of a novel, and Tarttelin is that gifted of a writer. This book simply deserves to be read and treasured.”
“Golden Boy is at once meditative and swift, a coming-of-age tale about the difficulties of growing up amid shame and secrets and success. Abigail Tarttelin writes with a sharp-eyed grace in this fascinating, heartfelt gem of a novel.”
“Golden Boy is terrific. A poignant, brave and important book.”
“Gritty yet humane, startlingly modern yet utterly timeless, Golden Boy hits all the deepest, biggest novelistic notes—family, identity, tragedy and hope—without the merest hint of strain. In Abigail Tarttelin's American debut, she has already proven herself to be a writer of extraordinary empathy and incredible wisdom... and she makes it look so easy. Tarttelin is the real deal.”
“A dramatic, thoroughgoing investigation of the complexities of sexuality and gender.... A warmly human coming-of-age story, thanks to the fact that Max is such an appealing character. And so his desperate search for identity is gripping, emotionally engaging, and genuinely unforgettable.”
“Gripping and beautifully-written, Abigail Tarttelin's Golden Boy is a courageous and profound exploration of social and sexual identity and its world of manifold complexities and challenges."
- Atria Books
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Read an Excerpt
My brother gets all As at school, and is generally always nice to everybody. He is on the county football team, which trains and plays at his high school, and they rotate captain between the three best players, which is him and his best friends, so for one month out of every three, he is captain of the team. People like him because he is fair and always calls out the names of the other players to support them and claps when they win, plus if they won because of someone else’s goal, he will always make sure that that person holds the trophy in the picture for the paper. He is like the perfect one of the two of us. Whenever my family is in the paper, they show pictures of my brother. Mostly they cut me out. My brother is much taller than me, and he also has lighter hair than me and straighter hair, and mine is quite curly and a darker yellow that some people say is ginger, which I have been teased about at school. Mum says he looks like an angel and I look like a little imp, but I don’t think she was trying to be insulting because she was smiling like I’d be pleased when she said it. My brother has proper muscles and can run really fast and wins all the races at school sports days. He also is doing a scholarship exam for the big school that goes after high school so Mum and Dad don’t have to pay any money for him to go, and he is probably going to get that, Mum says, because he works very hard and is naturally bright.
His friends Marc and Carl are funny. They are humourous-funny, but also strange funny. When they are at our house sometimes they all go quiet when I walk in a room and I say:
‘Hey! You were talking about me!’
And they say ‘We weren’t.’
And I say: ‘What were you talking about then?’
And sometimes they make silly excuses but sometimes one of them will say: ‘We were talking about girls.’
And then I say: ‘No you weren’t! You were talking about me!’
And my brother will say: ‘No, really, Daniel, I promise we were talking about girls.’
And then I believe them because my brother would never, ever lie to me, because we are brothers and we have a blood pact never to lie to one another. A blood pact means you would die before you lied to each other.
My brother is also really popular with girls. Carl told me so and so did Marc, and so did Mum. I also deduced this fact because a few times we have picked him up from school in the car and he has been talking to a girl and holding hands and then once… once he was kissing a girl and I was shocked and horrified and Mum laughed at my mouth, which was wide open, and beeped the horn and waved at him and my brother smiled and went red and got in the car and when he got in the car I said:
‘Why are you so red?’
And he said: ‘Shuddurrrp, Daniel.’
And Mum laughed again, even harder.
The best thing about my brother, is that he is the most amazing player of World of War ever. He doesn’t even play it that often! He only plays it with me. He plays more on the Xbox with Marc and Carl usually, and we play on the Wii downstairs with Mum and Dad sometimes and he also very rarely but occasionally plays on the Sega, but really he doesn’t play many games because he is out playing football. But he does play World of War with me most nights and we play until eight or eight thirty and then I have to either have a bath and go to bed or just go to bed, but usually have a bath and go to bed. Then I will read to Mum before bed, or sometimes I will read to Dad, but usually Dad is not home yet. Sometimes my brother comes in and we have our talks, which are very interesting conversations about life. My brother says I am very wise and he is right. I always have advice for him.
We are very different people. Some different things about the two of us are good though, like he is best at English and Geography and History, and he doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up, but I am a very advanced robot designer for my age and I know exactly what I want to be when I grow up: a robotic engineer. I will do all the design on the robots and I will oversee the construction of the prototype and then I will make an entire robot race, or I will use my robot powers to add robotic extensions to normal human beings, so they can be whatever they want to be, like if you couldn’t see but wanted to be a fighter pilot I could add robot eyes which could give you 20:20 vision, or even better 40:40 vision and night vision, with the ability to detect both infra-red and ultra-violet light. You would have a dial on your head and you could turn it to see which one you wanted to see. People would come into my workshop, and I would look at them, and I would improve them until they were absolutely perfect, and couldn’t be improved further. I would work on my brother and make him really big and muscly and fast as a cheetah, and I would give him a really deep voice and a buzz cut and a gun that formed from his left arm when his heightened senses told him we were in danger.
I told my brother what I wanted to be, and he said that it was cool but unfortunately he wouldn’t let me add extensions to him, because he wanted to be who he was, and see how that played out. I said that was stupid. Who wouldn’t want to be perfect? Or a robot?
And this is why I have chosen to write my class essay about my brother. Sincerely, Daniel Alexander Walker, age nine and four fifths.
My parents were each other’s antithesis. My mother was a beautiful, sad woman, dark, small and quick to anger. She would mutter about sacrifice and everything she had given up for us. She died when I was sixteen and now I wish I had known her better. My father was tall, with golden hair swept from a side parting, and had a gentle, mild temperament. Dad used to practice law and would leave for York very early in the morning, every day, to go to his offices. Later, he became a politician. He saw enough of the world to have dreams for us, and when I could go—when it was still free to go study for a degree—he sent me to Oxford University.
I was three years older than my sister Cheryl, and I didn’t want to go alone, so my friend Leah applied to train as a nurse in Oxford and followed me there. Two years after we moved to Oxford, she met Edward, a Philosophy major, while out rowing on the river. I was surprised she liked him so much, because Leah was so down-to-earth, and Edward was prone to arrogance. He felt too cold for warm Leah. Six months later, he took her for a picnic on that same river and proposed in front of all his friends. They were married and moved to Hemingway for Edward’s work. The houses were better value and roomier, and the town was quiet and safe. A few years after that, they found out they were going to have a baby, a boy.
Leah had moved to the suburbs, but I loved Oxford. The city was where I became a lawyer, where I met my husband, where we bought our first apartment, where the buzz of energy took on a unique momentum and propelled even the most mundane start to an evening forward into something new, something different and unexpected. My boyfriend Steve was two years ahead of me in law school. After he graduated we would meet at the pub around six most nights, then either stay there until late, drinking and talking, or walk home together. He was from London, tall, leanly muscular, earnest, blithely goodlooking and deliciously self-righteous. He was passionate. We argued a lot but had the same values. We both strove for independence and control, but we had a different relationship with success, imagining it was already waiting for us. We were healthy and young and full of promise. We had no problems and no doubts.
We got married in Oxford a few weeks after I graduated. Afterward we went for a meal at an Indian restaurant we both loved.
We found out I was pregnant just before we closed on the apartment in Oxford, and we moved to Hemingway a few months after the birth of our first child. Steve was twenty-eight, and I was twenty-six. The move was unexpected, but suddenly Oxford was too claustrophobic. Our friends would drop by at all times, without calling ahead, and above all we wanted privacy.
We took a long time, a few weeks, to decide on a name. Steve kept suggesting ones I hated: Jamie, Taylor, Rowan. In the end, he grew impatient with me and started calling the baby “Max.” After a while, it stuck.
Later, when we had Daniel, our second child, my sister moved to Hemingway to be closer to me.
Cheryl’s life is very different from mine. She traveled instead of going to university. Cheryl has had several long-term boyfriends but only got married last year, at thirty-eight, to Charlie, who has a wide, boyish grin and wild, curly hair.
I know it sounds irrational, but sometimes I feel jealous of all the freedom and solitude she has experienced. As a barrister for the court and a mother of two, my own free time is precious. I spend it with my family, and when I get the chance I see Cheryl or Leah, but even these occasions seem to be few and far between. I call them both regularly but we only manage perhaps one lunch or dinner a month.
Perhaps because we made similar choices in life, Leah and I are closer than my sister and I. I know if anything happened to me, Leah would be there for my children, and I would be there, if anything happened to Leah, for her son, Hunter, who, like many children without siblings, can be moody and controlling. I don’t share that thought with Leah obviously, because we all like to believe that our children are perfect, and personally, I wouldn’t want to be disabused of that notion.
Despite Hunter’s bossiness, Max and he have been best friends since they were little and Leah and I have always been glad of this, because on shared holidays they are good at entertaining themselves. They are both resourceful, playing football together, exploring, swimming, surfing, fighting and making up without our input. Max is always the first, and sometimes the only one, to forgive, ever the peacemaker.
Leah was the first person I confided in about Max’s condition, and Hunter has known since he was four. He was young when he found out, sharing a bath with Max before bedtime, but he seemed to understand as much as a child could. We just told him Max is different. Max is special.
Meet the Author
Abigail Tarttelin is a writer, an actress, and the book editor for Phoenix magazine in the UK. Her novel, Golden Boy, received a 2014 Alex Award and was a finalist for the 2014 Lambda Literary Award. She lives in London. Find out more at AbigailTarttelin.com.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Amazing, gripping and stunning!I did not expect such a heart-piercing story ... The story of Max Walker touched me, moved me... I had great difficulty to lay out this book before reaching the last pages. I did not expect such a heart-piercing story ... I was angry, confused, outraged, puzzleheaded, amused by the events affecting Max, Daniel and their parent. I was overwhelmed by these feelings and it's the reason I truly liked the Max's story. Indeed, Max is intersex. He has the same number of female and male chromosomes since his birth. He did not undergo any operation in his youth, so he is sexually neither a man nor a woman. Having always kept the secret of his sexual ambiguity, his parents raised him to be the perfect, charming, clever boy that everyone can dream about. If Max seems to accept himself and integrate among other children, things get complicated when sex enters into the equation of his perfect life. If physically, he has the appearance of a charming 16 years old boy and he is attracted to girls, a rape will come disrupt and shattered his everyday life. A trauma with shocking consequences for the whole family. Max will have to deal with a pregnancy in a boy's body. Soon he will start to ask questions about his hermaphroditism and what it means for his future. At 16, he will have to leave the fragile cocoon spun by his parents who thought to do well and learn to make his own choices. In a world inclined to promptly judge according to well-defined criteria, Max is trying to find his place, to open up to others and to be loved as he is. Beautifully told by the various viewpoints of the protagonists, the story does not leave indifferent. Beyond the unexpected subject of intersex, the beautiful written skills of the author and the complexity of emotions perfectly transcribed, I broadened my horizons with this book. A beautiful story of love and acceptance of differences. Lucie newbooksonmyselves.blogspot.fr
Max: smart, funny, popular, cool, great kisser and intersex. Don’t ask Max what intersex is as he’s not quite sure of all the details, all he really knows is that he’s special as he has male and female parts. Max lets no one of the opposite sex get too close, for Max it’s all stops at the kissing. His parents are a quirky set and they frustrated me many times as I read the book. As Max enters his puberty years, most parents would be ready to address issues with their teens even without having this disorder staring them in the face but his parents seem to forget about Max’s life until things have blown up. I feel for Max, he seems so well adjusted to life and he is, if he forgets about his disorder but he can’t because that is a part of him. Max is assaulted and wandering into a clinic, Max finally feels in control. He’s able to find someone who will talk to him, just him and although he’s been violated, Max knows where he can go for help. No happy trails here, it’s a downward spiral, with implications that I dreaded. Sylvie, she sheds some light on the situation. He wanted more from her and that scared him. He fears intimacy, intimacy with the opposite sex and now he was falling for Sylvie. It was part about falling in love that scared him: wasn’t falling in love supposed to be fun and blissful? Could he take the risk and move forward with Sylvie, he had so much at stake revealing his secret, he would be a lamb brought to the slaughter if the relationship ever ended. For mature readers only as there are some controversial issues and mature subject matter.
Highly recommend if you have an open mind and an open heart. Excellent book. Heartfully written.
Wonderful,insightful well done
This was an unusal topic but the novel was riveting. I would like a sequel to read more about this family. This would be a good book club choice. Writing and format -- A++++
At first, I thought the book was weird, but after I finished it, I decided that it makes you think about questions of identity, about how we decide who we really are, and that the answers aren't simple, and are as different and individual as we are. A book that gets you thinking.
Golden Boy is told through the voices of Max and those closest to him - six perspectives in all. I'm not sure the narration would have worked as beautifully any other way; so much insight would have been lost. Tarttelin has created characters so complex and multidimensional, it's almost impossible to pin them down. I especially felt this with Max's mother, Karen. As soon as the slightest judgment about her crept into my mind, her voice would soon narrate and make me see that things aren't explained as simply as I'd like. Although I still disagreed with many of her actions, I gained sympathy for her, and could begin to understand why she made the choices she did. Our society's rigid views on gender can create overwhelming issues for people with intersex, especially as they come of age and start to think about all the ways their life will be different. Max is acutely aware that society is not going to change, and that is a major factor in the choices he makes. The abuse of trust Max experiences (be prepared - it is the worst possible abuse of trust) is horrific and devastating, but it is also a catalyst that forced Max into contemplating many facets of intersex he hadn't yet considered. That's a lot of heavy stuff all at once, on top of the usual adolescent angst. In many ways, I could relate to Max's father, Steve. I felt that I share some of his parenting philosophy - Max's parents seem to be at opposite extremes from each other on that. Max's struggles made me realize that, while it's great to let your kids make their own choices, it's also important to realize when they need guidance; some issues are just too difficult for them to navigate on one's own. This novel kept me up until the wee hours of the morning until I fell asleep against my will. I was completely involved in the story. Oftentimes my stomach would be in knots from sympathizing with him, from worrying about him. There were a few moments that completely and utterly shocked me. There were times I was shaken to my core. I felt angry that society is so stuck on a gender binary that people like Max, who are otherwise happy being who they are, aren't free to be themselves. I hate that they often face enormous pressure to change, just to make the rest of us feel more comfortable. I cared about Max. I received a copy of Golden Boy via NetGalley. It's been almost four months since I finished reading it, and Max's story is still with me.