Author: Sophie Labelle
Series or Standalone?: Standalone
Pub. Date: 15 September 2020
Ciel is excited to start high school. A gender non-conforming trans kid, Ciel has a YouTube channel and dreams of getting a better camera to really make a mark. Ciel can always rely on their best friend, Stephie, a trans girl who also happens to be a huge nerd, but their friendship begins to feel distant when Stephie makes it clear she wants the fact that she’s trans to be more invisible in high school. While navigating this new friendship dynamic, Ciel is also trying to make a long-distance relationship work with their boyfriend Eirikur, who just moved back to Iceland. When Ciel befriends Liam, a new trans boy at school, things become more complicated by the minute.
- homophobia (slurs)
- parent death (mentioned)
- Brazilian-Canadian non-binary trans MC
- multiple side characters of color (I don’t have the exact races because I somehow lost all my notes, I’m sorry 😭)
- trans boy side character
- bi trans girl side character
- multiple queer/LGBTQ+ side characters (identities not specified)
*I received an eARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*
So I normally don’t read Middle Grade books — not because I’m disinterested, but because I usually completely forget about them — but I’m so, so glad I was able to snag this up on NetGalley! It was unbelievably cute, and we need all the happy, uplifting trans/non-binary books for younger readers.
Ciel is about this young non-binary trans kid, Ciel, who is just starting high school. They’re also a small YouTuber, making videos about their day, family, friends, etc. The book follows them and their friends as they come to terms with high school life and the up’s and down’s that come with it.
Lemme be upfront with all y’all and say that not a lot happens in terms of plot: the whole book spans only the first two weeks of high school for Ciel, and it isn’t even 300 pages long. If you’re much more action-oriented, this book may not be for you.
However, this is part of the reason why I fell in love with it: it was basically just a slice-of-life story that focused on Ciel and their issues with their new friend group, their boyfriend, and how to express themself and their gender at a new school. I finished it within about three or four hours, and it was everything I wish I had when I was younger, even though I didn’t know I was genderqueer until much later in life.
Ciel spoke to me as a main character, in more ways than one. I completely empathized with their issue regarding what to wear as a non-binary person, especially because they didn’t want to stand out too much at first. While I usually don’t wear too many overtly feminine things (I’m AFAB), I still have a look where if you saw me on the street, you would probably code me as a woman. However, I wish wish wish I could dress more overtly masculine, maybe even bind. But where I live right now, I don’t want to stand out like that, mostly because I’m not out to barely anyone IRL. So Ciel’s issue? I totally understood them.
And their anxiety regarding friends! Going into high school was so scary for me because I didn’t know a lot of people, even though I was in stuff like band and cross country. I kinda just lumped together with folks from band, and called it a day, even though I felt they were just putting up with me and not because they wanted to be my friend. Seeing that paralleled with Ciel’s experience validated my experiences from so long ago, in my first year of high school.
Oh! And the fact that Ciel wasn’t the only trans person in the book! Their best friend Stephie is a trans girl who, upon entering high school, doesn’t want to make it known that she’s a trans girl, which causes a bit of friction between her and Ciel. There’s also a trans boy character as well, Liam. I just really enjoyed seeing the three of them interact with each other because of how different they come at their trans/non-binary identity. It’s different for each of them, and seeing that variety should make it clear that there’s no specific “right” or “wrong” way to be trans, which I think will be awesome for both trans and non-trans kids alike.
The only thing I wish we got more of was more of the side characters. Understandably, you can only fit so much into a middle grade novel, but damn, I would have loved to see this book spread out over the course of the year, seeing the side characters and how they developed throughout the course of it. That would’ve honestly made it a 10/5 star read for me, really.
I think Ciel is a perfect book for non-trans kids who want to learn more about trans/non-binary experiences, and (first and foremost) for the trans/non-binary kids who are either questioning if they’re “trans enough” or who want a happy, hopeful representation of kids like them. Because that’s what Ciel is: even though it has instances of transphobia and homophobia, it is ultimately a hopeful, positive book about trans kids and their lives. I hope when a trans kid reads it, they see themselves in it, like I did.
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