Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker.
Viking, Penguin Random House, New York, 2017.
MG science fiction, 283 pages.
Lexile: 940L .
AR Level: not yet leveled
Felix is your average kid, trying to do enough school work to get by, dreaming about his crush, drawing in class, and trying to avoid the school bully. However, he’s also a very special kid, because at three years old, he was fused with an alien from the fourth dimension. With Zyx inside of him, Felix has a lot of disadvantages, and a few advantages, that most kids don’t. But the biggest problem is the Procedure, which is designed to finally separate them but might also kill them both. And it’s happening in 29 days.
This book had a great tagline: “It’s what’s inside that counts… and what’s inside Felix is an alien.” Also, the cover is fabulous, simply presenting the style and major problem of this stand-alone book.
Felix’s grandparent is genderfluid, presenting as male three days of the week, female another three, and meditating alone (being fir true self) on Wednesdays. Another character is transgender. Felix himself is gay, specifically not bi. His mother is bisexual, which is casually referenced on page 37 “Rick. Boyfriends. Mother Hubbard, I wish she would go back to having girlfriends again. They were nicer, mostly.”
That’s one of the major strengths of this book. Bunker has a lot of marginalized characters, most LGBT, some in other ways. As a transgender author, she writes these characters with accuracy and sensitivity. She never ignores marginalizations or microaggressions, but the book is also not about that. At its core, this is MG science fiction, and the plot’s main focus is Felix, Zyx, and the impending Procedure.
Spoilers/Triggers This is a new book, and Disability in Kidlit is on hiatus, but I want to read #ownvoices reviewers for the disability aspects of this novel. The depression felt accurate, but I was less certain about the stuttering, tics, paralysis, and seizure-like symptoms parts of Zyx’s fusion with Felix. I don’t have enough background to judge these portrayals. The major issue for me was how Zyx leaving is the cure. That was mentioned from the start, but I just wasn’t sure if this example fell into the magical disability trope.
Spoilers Continue Another aspect is that depression comes up quite a bit, including suicidal thoughts and comments. Slurs are used (and called out) referring to Felix’s perceived disability and sexual orientation. These could be triggers for some students. / End of spoilers.
Some parts were a bit stilted. Felix uses random names instead of swearing, which keeps the book MG appropriate but also felt unrealistic. The whole Zyx (alien) versus Felix Yz thing got a little too unpronounceable at times. Also, I love puns, but at points Bunker pushed too hard with the wordplay.
The story could have been a bit tighter and more concise. Thankfully the built-in ticking clock (the Procedure) keeps the reader moving through side plots or digressions. The blurb and impending doom of the Procedure led me to expect a darker novel, but this was surprisingly light, and even funny (punny). It’s all deliciously nerdy in a way I love, but don’t often find in diverse novels.
All of the storylines wrap up neatly in a typical MG ending, so there’s not likely to be a sequel. The publisher recommends this for ages 10+. I’d concur, with the caveat to check the trigger warnings above first. This is a quintessential middle school novel. It could apply to high school students too, but I don’t know if many would read it since Felix is in eighth grade. The Classroom Bookshelf has an article with tools and discussion points for teachers.
While it’s not an all-time favorite, this first novel breaks genres and is progressive in many ways. I’m excited for Bunker’s 2019 book Zenobia July (from the teaser, it looks like Zenobia might be in foster care or adopted).
Review updated 10/29 to fix typos and add in further links.