Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker. Viking, 2017.
Thirteen-year-old Felix was just a toddler sitting on his scientist father’s lap when an experiment exploded. His father died, while Felix’s consciousness was fused with that of an alien, whom they call Zyx. Having an alien in his body makes Felix look severely retarded – his body moves uncontrollably and he often can’t make his words come out coherently. This makes him an easy target for bullying. Inside, though, his thoughts are buzzing. He has deep conversations with Zyx on the nature of life. He loves to draw comics and has a serious crush on a super cute boy at school, Hector, who is African-American.
Felix lives with his mother, who has dated both men and women since his father died, but is currently dating a man who is very interested in chess. Zyx, it turns out, is also very interested in the beautiful patterns of a chess game. Felix’s sister, Beatrix, is a classical musician, while his grandparent, Grandy, spends three days a week as a male named Vern, three as a female named Vera, and one day a week locked in zer room meditating and contemplating existence. I especially appreciated that while Grandy dresses and speaks differently depending on the day, all version of zer personality enjoy knitting.
Things cannot continue as they have been, though. Zyx being fused with Felix means that Felix isn’t growing as he should. Doctors and Zyx are convinced that unless they try to separate them, Felix will soon die. The procedure they have planned, though, has a very low chance of success, and Felix is understandably nervous and counting down the days.
I am very torn about this book. On the plus side, I sincerely liked Felix as a character. My son’s middle school literature class has in the past let kids choose from a variety of books with main characters with disabilities, and Felix – well, I guess he really does have a disability with Zyx, though his mind underneath is just fine. That could really help kids think about what might be under the surface of other people with disabilities they meet. Grandy was a very interesting character, but seemed over-the-top, even to the trans friend I talked to about it. (though granted, she didn’t read the book herself.) I ended up feeling frustrated with romance, which built very, very slowly to one kiss on the cheek and then fizzled out. Really? In 2017, we can’t have a same-sex romance for middle schoolers that ends with them at least comfortable holding hands? I know at that age, relationship may not often last long at all, but I don’t think it would have played out this way in a hetero relationship. The book also had lots and lots of contemplation on the beauty of threeness and life slowing down the plot, such that it felt like it would take a very patient and character-oriented kid reader to make it through the book. I could be wrong – this might appeal to the same people who made Wonder so popular. In short, an intriguing book that I’m just not quite sure of the audience for.
This book has been nominated for the Cybils award. This review reflects my opinion, not that of the Cybils committee.