Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart. Two kids sit in a tree with their back to the viewer.

About the Book

Title: Lily and Dunkin
Published: 2016

Cover Story: Sittin’ in a Tree
Drinking Buddy: Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee With Extra Sugar
Testosterone/Estrogen Level: Slow Burn
Talky Talk: The Real You
Bonus Factors: Various Awesome Family Members, LGBTQ
Bromance Status: The Awesome Awkward Kid I Was Too Scared to Defend

Cover Story:  Sittin’ in a Tree

Our two main characters, sitting in the tree that plays a major role in the story. They look like their descriptions in the book, but shot from behind so we can form our own mental images of them. Now was that so hard?

The Deal:

Thirteen-year-old Lily can’t make her father understand that she’s a girl. Her mother understands, as do her sister and her best friend, Dare. Hell, even her late grandfather knew. But her father insists on calling her ‘Tim’, encouraging her to cut her hair, and refusing to allow her to wear a dress outside of the house.

Lily is transgender. And it’s not like she can play the waiting game with her father. He’s refusing to let her take hormone blockers, and the clock is ticking. When male puberty hits, she’ll develop a beard, a deep voice, and an adam’s apple, all irreversible changes she’ll be stuck with for the rest of her life. Why can’t her father see the obvious?

Norbert Dorfman, narrator of the alternate chapters, has just moved to Lily’s Florida city from New Jersey. His father had a mental breakdown and he and his mother have moved in with Norbert’s grandma while they sort their lives out. He’s not pleased with the idea of living in a state where getting eaten by an alligator is a real risk, and he misses his old friend Phineas. But maybe the move will give him a chance to reinvent himself. Stop being awkward old Norbert.

When Norbert meets Lily (who is still presenting as Tim), they form an instant bond. Lily sees how embarrassed Norbert is of his name, so she dubs him ‘Dunkin’ after his favorite restaurant. They both have the friend they desperately need.

Except…Lily hasn’t told Dunkin about her true self. Would he understand? And Dunkin, due to his height, is quickly scouted by the basketball jocks, the guys who torment Lily for being effeminate. Dunkin isn’t really friends with that Tim faggot, is he?

Sometimes it’s not easy being true to yourself, or your friends.

Drinking Buddy: Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee With Extra Sugar

A pitcher and glass of milk

Lily and Dunkin are two kids who have a very hard time liking themselves. Lily has known she was a girl since she was a toddler, but understandably is nervous about presenting as female at her school. She catches enough hell for occasionally wearing eyeliner or nail polish. In one particularly emotional scene, she cuts off her beautiful, long blond hair at her father’s insistence. Even though she knows what her destiny is, she still has a hard time making that final leap.

Dunkin recently watched his father have a complete mental breakdown, spending his family’s entire savings on a billboard advertising his denture creating services (he is not, in fact, a dentist). While Dad cools his heels in a mental facility, Dunkin is kind of adrift. Without his pal Phineas cheering him on, he’s afraid to take chances. When he’s accepted by the jock crowd, he denies being friends with Lily and her friend Dare. They’ll understand, right? I mean, he has a chance to be popular!

Like all eighth graders, they make dumb decisions and screw up. But they’re good kids at heart, and we hope they’ll get their heads together before high school.

Testosterone/Estrogen Level: Slow Burn

I wondered if this would be a romance. When Dunkin first sees Lily, she’s wearing a dress and he wants to meet the blond girl with the beautiful blue eyes. However, she then starts presenting as Tim, claiming the dress was just a dare from her sister. This of course gives heterosexual Dunkin conflicting feels, but he accepts Tim as just a pretty guy. For most of the book, they struggle with friendship, not romance.

That’s not to say this book isn’t intense. Lily must walk the gauntlet every day, facing down jerks who like to humiliate her for existing. And when Dunkin has a chance to stand up for her…he doesn’t.

But Dunkin has demons of his own. He’s inherited his father’s mental problems, though he keeps them in control with medication. But those pills slow him down. Make him lethargic. Now that he’s an athlete, he needs to be on top of his game. Maybe he can skip a few doses. Phineas always said Dunkin could do anything he set his mind to. Now Dunkin is going to prove it. NBA here he comes! This is going to be epic. EPIC!

Talky Talk: The Real You

Sometimes I wanted to throttle Dunkin. Every time one of his new friends tormented Lily, I kept thinking ‘And here’s where he stands up for her. Here’s where he shows what true friendship is about.’

But he doesn’t, at least not at first. And that’s probably realistic. Junior high is a miserable time, especially when you’re the new guy. It’s not always easy to make a moral stand when you’re thirteen and scared that the sharks are going to turn on you next.

But when the city threatens to chop down Lily’s favorite tree, one that she named after her grandfather, it’s Dunkin who joins her in the branches, standing up to the chainsaw-wielding municipal employees. He can be very loyal when he wants to. He’s a somewhat intense guy. In fact, one might say his behavior is kind of erratic. Um, what were in those pills he stopped taking, anyway?

Junior high is a time where you start deciding the type of adult you’re going to be. Lily and Dunkin just have a harder time than most.

Bonus Factor: Awesome Family Members

7 family members of all ages in a group hug

Unlike many kids dealing with gender issues and mental illness, Dunkin and Lily have family members in their corner. Dunkin has his incredible, athletic grandmother, who disapproves of his love of junk food and puts him through rough but enjoyable training for basketball season. Lily has a mother and sister who fully accept her as a girl. So why can’t her father see her like that?

It’s a rough world, but it’s a little easier when you don’t have to face things alone.

Bonus Factor: LGBTQ

Pride flag being waved in a parade

Transgender issues have been in the spotlight recently, partly due to a department store allowing women to use the women’s room. It’s nice to read an upbeat, positive portrayal of a transgender girl. While the last chapter might have been just a little over the top happy, there’s nothing wrong with ending things with a smile.

Bromance Status: The Awesome Awkward Kid I Was Too Scared to Defend

Maybe I didn’t want to see anyone reading a sweet story about a transgender kid, but in my heart, I enjoyed this book. And hopefully the Lilys and Dunkins of the future will have no reason to be ashamed.

FTC full disclosure: I received neither money nor…well, anything for writing this review.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.