Zenobia July by Lisa Bunker
My Rating: 4/5 TARDISes
Date Published: May 21st, 2019
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Pages: 320 pages
Synopsis: Zenobia July is starting a new life. She used to live in Arizona with her father; now she’s in Maine with her aunts. She used to spend most of her time behind a computer screen, improving her impressive coding and hacking skills; now she’s coming out of her shell and discovering a community of friends at Monarch Middle School. People used to tell her she was a boy; now she’s able to live openly as the girl she always knew she was.
When someone anonymously posts hateful memes on her school’s website, Zenobia knows she’s the one with the abilities to solve the mystery, all while wrestling with the challenges of a new school, a new family, and coming to grips with presenting her true gender for the first time. Timely and touching, Zenobia July is, at its heart, a story about finding home.
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
This is a spoiler-free review.
This was an incredibly enjoyable read. There are so many intriguing aspects of this novel that captivated me right from the start. At its core, this is a story of love, compassion, and finding ones’ place in the world. It is a story that shows the amazing strength a person can have when standing up for what they believe in and doing what is right. All of these themes are made all the more interesting with the element of mystery that is thrown in here. Zenobia July is an all-around uplifting and poignant novel.
In this novel, we follow a young transgender girl named Zenobia July. Zenobia has just moved from Arizona to Maine to live with her aunts. This, coupled with the many recent discoveries she has made about her true self and who she is meant to be, means that she is beginning a new and very unfamiliar life. She is finally starting to open up and discover a supportive group of friends while also getting the chance to live openly as a girl. When offensive and intolerant memes from an anonymous poster begin to appear on her school’s website, Zenobia gets to put her hacking and coding talents to good use in order to solve this mystery and stop the poster.
The characters were a very strong part of this story. Bunker does a great job of fully building each one and presenting them in a realistic and three-dimensional way. She clearly shows how each person and their relationships with each other grow and evolve throughout the course of the narrative. Every character has a unique voice and personality, and seeing how they all blend into each others’ lives is a lot of fun.
Zenobia is an absolutely beautiful person and an extremely strong protagonist. She learns many important lessons about life and, in turn, teaches these same things to the reader. This cast of characters is very diverse, which intensifies the deep and meaningful messages that can be found in this novel. Zenobia and her friends and family are so loveable and a joy to read about.
One of the only issues I ran into while reading this was with the writing itself. I found it to be a bit choppy and, in the beginning, this made it slightly difficult to follow. It took me a while to become fully immersed in the story. However, I think this was mainly a case of me not completely clicking with the author’s writing style. It is very obvious that Bunker is a talented author, and she creates a vivid and engrossing narrative. As I mentioned already, the characters are beautifully and uniquely crafted. She addresses many important and timely topics and does so in a clear and widely accessible way. Every element is woven together seamlessly.
It is always so wonderful to see more LGBTQ+ novels coming into the world, especially in middle-grade literature. This is a story that many people could learn a lot from, especially a younger audience. It makes important and complex topics understandable to any age and spreads a very positive message. It is one of those books that definitely has the potential to have a profound impact on a reader’s life and broaden their view of society and the world itself.
The true meaning of family—that is does not only apply to blood relatives—and the support and love they can give are such powerful things to learn about and we are given a great example of both within these pages. Zenobia’s story displays the importance of being true to yourself no matter what and encourages readers to remember to listen to their heart. Figuring out who you are is a challenging experience—presenting that person to everyone else in your life even more so. However, remaining strong and sure of yourself will get you over the many hurdles life puts in your path. This novel is a shining example of that very message and is a fantastic addition to the literary world.
Lisa Bunker lives in Exeter, New Hampshire. Before taking up writing full time, she had a thirty-year career in public and community radio. In November of 2018, she was elected to represent her town in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. She is married and has two grown children. Her geekeries include chess, piano, gender, storycraft, and language.