Middle school can be hard, especially when you’re the new kid. Zenobia July is a recent Arizona transplant in Portland, Maine after being adopted by her aunts. Raised in a small town by a religious family, Zenobia finds herself struggling with her new life though not just because of the move and new family dynamic. This is the first time in her life Zenobia is able to actually live as a girl. Her new school gives her a chance to live her new and true life, but even knowing who she is and wanting to express that every day, doesn’t mean that this new life is easy. On top of trying to make friends and finding her way in a new social environment, Zenobia finds herself needing to use her impressive tech skills to find out who is posting awful things on the school’s website. Lisa Bunker’s Zenobia July is a sweet and emotional read that is perfect for young readers and personally is a story that I think even adult readers can benefit from.
On her first day at school Zenobia meets a word loving student who thinks she is intriguing. The two strike up a friendship that brings her into a preexisting friend group of people that her new friend Arli calls a collection of orphan misfits. Through Arli Zenobia learns about some of the ins and outs of the school, but there are some things she will have to learn on her own. When terrible messages appear on the school website one of her new friends is pulled out of school and on top of that Zenobia has been dealing with her own bullies. When another student is outed for being trans, she becomes even more concerned that things will get worse and her worries grow stronger. With her new friends, her aunts, and a brand new chosen uncle Zenobia will find herself trying to work through all of the new emotions and pressures that come along with allowing herself to be a girl every day in spite of the fears that continuously seem to press down on her.
Bunker’s writing is fantastically well done and in her character work for Zenobia she shares the concerns that arise out of living your true life. While Zenobia has known since the age of five that she is a girl actually allowing herself to live the life she knows is true keep bringing anxiety into her life. While she has never had her identity questioned at school when she hears girls making comments about someone else in the bathroom she becomes worried and these fears reassert themselves throughout her story. Bunker emphasizes the worries that can arise for someone who feels that they might be persecuted for being who they are and while Zenobia has a support system she still struggles. This is the sort of complex psychological examination that I would expect in an adult novel, but what Bunker crafts is a complex story that is easy to follow. She does not dumb anything down for her readers and creates complexly evolved characters. Outside of Zenobia, her best friend Arli identifies as genderqueer and uses specific pronouns that are maintained throughout the book. Beyond that Arli also discusses veir anxiety and how this keeps ven out of school sometimes. Bunker is cognizant of how much young people can struggle with their mental health and writes characters that discuss it frankly and without shame. I would strongly recommend Zenobia July to young readers and also to adults who are trying to become better allies to the LGBTQ+ community, especially those who might be looking for more information concerning genderqueer and trans people. You can get your copy of Zenobia July today.