Book review: Stay Gold, by Tobly McSmith

McSmith, Tobly. Stay Gold. New York: Harper Teen, 2020. 368pp. ISBN: 9780062943170. $17.99.

Stay GoldComedy writer Tobly McSmith’s debut, which releases in May, opens with stage directions for the perfect high school romantic comedy á la Love, Simon and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Having recently come out as transgender, New Kid Pony is going stealth at Hillcrest High in the hopes of having a “normal” high school experience. But plans change after Pony lays eyes on Cheerleader Georgia. The quirky girl-next-door type, Georgia’s beloved by everyone – though she has a tendency to make up ridiculous stories, and she cares a little too much about appearances. Through alternating POVs, readers become increasingly acquainted with Pony and Georgia – and increasingly invested in their budding romance. But can Georgia let go of her own insecurities and embrace Pony as he is? And what will Pony do when fellow LGBTQ classmates are outed in a malicious, public format?

Snappy Gilmore Girls-esque banter meets issues of identity, insecurity, and self-consciousness – all wrapped up in a love story that both fits and breaks the typical YA romcom mold. I fell in love with Pony almost immediately; his offbeat personality and quippy dialogue, along with glimpses into his troubled psyche, give him a well-rounded feel – probably largely thanks to McSmith’s own experiences as a transgender man. I have to admit Georgia was less swoon-worthy in my book. I really wanted Pony to find someone more deserving of his love, someone who wasn’t so wrapped up in what other people might think. But she won me over in the end – as I think she’ll win over most readers.

Stay Gold is perfect for fans of David Levithan, Sandhya Menon, Nina LaCour – really, any of the greats of YA romcom fame. Highly recommended, with a quick caveat: The story involves violence against LGBTQ characters and suicidal ideations, so readers who might be triggered by these topics should beware.

Reviewed by Kate Frick, Darien Library

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