Recently, I started hunting for novels for an identity themed literature circle. Lily and Dunkin, by Donna Gephart, was a recurring suggestion. The book has been on my list for a while, so I decided to move it to the top of my reading pile. I'm happy that I did.
Lily and Dunkin focuses on two grade eight students growing up in Florida who are struggling with issues of identity and belonging. Lily is a girl who is on the cusp of coming out as transgender in her school and community. Norbert (who Lily nicknames Dunkin) is a boy who struggles with bipolar disorder and fitting in at his new school.
Of the two characters, I feel like Lily is the most compelling. She struggles to win the support of her father and navigate the unique challenges faced by transgender teens. The book doesn't shy away from examining bullying at school and its impact. However, the ending falls a bit short, as the bullying storyline doesn't reach a full resolution, but is instead quietly dropped after a serious incident. The book's happy ending is satisfying, although perhaps a little too glowing to ring completely true. I'm willing to forgive the fairy tale ending though to see Lily publically embrace her true identity.
Dunkin's character was both frustrating and intriguing for me. I liked the depiction of mental illness written from his point of view. It offers important insights into what living with a mental illness would be like. I can see this helping destigmatize mental illness for many students. What frustrated me was Dunkin's complicity in the bullying that takes place. He frequently acts as a bystander, albeit one who is uncomfortable with how Lily is being treated. I can see this opening up some interesting avenues for discussion among students, even if it frustrates me while reading it.
Overall, the book provides good examples of teens who are struggling with identity issues. I think it will speak strongly to students who are trying to figure out where they fit in the world. My next step is to put the book in the hands of my students to see what they think of Lily and Dunkin.