Jeremy Harkiss, cheer captain and student body president, won’t let coming out as a transgender boy ruin his senior year of high school. Instead of bowing to the bigots and outdated school administration, Jeremy decides to make some noise—and how better than by challenging his all-star ex-boyfriend, Lukas, for the title of Homecoming King?
Lukas Rivers, football star and head of the Homecoming Committee, is just trying to find order in his life after his older brother’s funeral and the loss of his long-term girlfriend—who turned out to be a boy. But when Jeremy threatens to break his heart and steal his crown, Lukas kickstarts a plot to sabotage Jeremy’s campaign.
When both boys take their rivalry too far, they jeopardize the entire dance. To save Homecoming, they’ll have to face the hurt they’re both hiding—and the lingering butterflies they can’t deny.
Provided by the publisher
I talk very openly about my identity as a transgender man. I’m in my 30s now, but as a child, teenager and young adult, I had no visible representation in media to look to that would explain what I now recognize to be gender dysphoria. I didn’t begin a social transition until I was 28 years old, and I know I could have been spared years of pain and heartache had I only known other transgender men existed.
This is why I speak so openly about my identity, as well as the importance of diverse representation in storytelling. Stories should include all sorts of people and identities and should be written by authors who are just as varied. To that end, I attempt to get my hands on every book I can find written by, for or about transgender people—and especially transgender men. ZR Ellor (who also goes by Zabé) pulls from his own experiences to write dynamic characters. For example, Jeremy is transgender and consistently geared up for a fight, and Lukas’ experiences and thought processes mimic ZR’s own experiences with autism.
I generally struggle with YA novels for a variety of reasons, and as a 31-year-old man, I couldn’t entirely relate to either of these teenage characters. However, reading isn’t just about recognizing myself in the characters. It’s also about seeing different types of people and their different struggles. It’s about recognizing the difficulty of growing up, forging your own identity in a world that seems set against you and expanding your worldview through representation and diversity. If I were 17 when this book came out, it would have changed my life. In that regard, I loved it.
Something to note, ZR Ellor discusses on his Tik Tok page that many cisgender people (people whose gender identity matches what they were assigned at birth) often find these characters unlikeable or unapproachable. For example, Jeremy often responds with defensiveness and anger, even in anticipation of a perceived action or slight. Lukas doesn’t communicate well or pick up on social queues, causing tension between him and his ex Jeremy. However, these personality traits and responses are deeply embedded in trans and autistic identities. And while I cannot speak to Lukas and the representation of autism, ZR Ellor is autistic and can understand what that translates to in terms of interpersonal relationships.
The character Jeremy, for his part, is going through an incredibly stressful life experience, and that’s even before adding the extra stress of transitioning. Transgender people are often painted as aggressive or unhelpful. Many times trans people respond with hurt or anger to repeated questions and comments. It is incredibly traumatic to exist as a member of a minority group, and that trauma can turn to anger. Especially in a teenage boy who is also dealing with a break-up, his senior year of high school and the pressure of a mother who feigns support but actually makes no effort to understand or speak about his identity, and subconsciously pressures him back into the closet and to conform to the femininity he is expected to display.
As you can tell, reading this book brought out some intense feelings for me. At the end of the day, I rated May the Best Man Win by Z.R. Ellor 3 out of 5 stars on my personal reading log, but I think I’d cautiously rate it a 4 in light of the above discussion. I think it’s incredibly important to read books like this. Not just for trans or questioning youth, but cis youth and all adults as well.