Book review: Stay Gold

Stay Gold by Tobly McSmith

From Goodreads

Pony just wants to fly under the radar during senior year. Tired from all the attention he got at his old school after coming out as transgender, he’s looking for a fresh start at Hillcrest High. But it’s hard to live your best life when the threat of exposure lurks down every hallway and in every bathroom.

Georgia is beginning to think there’s more to life than cheerleading. She plans on keeping a low profile until graduation…which is why she promised herself that dating was officially a no-go this year.

Then, on the very first day of school, the new guy and the cheerleader lock eyes. How is Pony supposed to stay stealth when he wants to get close to a girl like Georgia? How is Georgia supposed to keep her promise when sparks start flying with a boy like Pony?

★★★☆☆

I have a lot of thoughts about this book, so I apologize in advance if it’s a little scattered. I just want to preface this review by saying that I’m cis, so this is all from a cis person’s perspective. But I do consider myself an ally, and I actively sought out own voices reviews before writing this review to make sure I wasn’t off base.

!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE BOOK !!

Let’s get the good parts out of the way: this was a fairly quick read; it was fast-paced and interesting; and the characters were entertaining enough. I liked the Ted London storyline, but thought it ended fairly abruptly and didn’t have a super satisfying conclusion.

My biggest issue with this book was that I don’t know who it was written for, and a lot of the issues stem from that.

I think it would be a really hard read for a young trans person (i.e. the target demographic), and the message they get out of it wouldn’t be super useful. This book has a ton of misgendering, general non-acceptance of trans people, and negative stereotypes about trans people, most of which aren’t challenged in any meaningful way. For example, when Pony comes out to Georgia the first time, she gets upset with him for “lying” to her the whole time. Instead of challenging the implication that he was lying, he apologizes for lying, sending the message to someone reading it that trans people are in fact lying if they’re not out to you. I suspect that a lot of this would be triggering, or at the very least, hard to read for younger trans people. My friend Caidyn, who is a trans man, said a lot of it got to him when he was reading this book.

Additionally, so many people don’t accept Pony until after he’s literally hatecrimed. Pony is physically and sexually assaulted, so brutally he’s hospitalized, and finally, his father, love interest, and best friend accept him. So the message here to young trans people is “people will only accept you if you experience something traumatic”. His father actually doesn’t even accept him after that; Georgia goes to talk to Pony’s father, which is what makes him change his mind. So the message here is……. a cis person has to ask nicely before you’ll respect your trans son???

There were so many opportunities to have some great conversations that would have achieved the same outcome as Pony being hatecrimed, but barely any of them happened. For example, Pony’s best friend is another transman named Max. Max is loud and proud about being trans, and is willing to call out people for being transphobic. He doesn’t understand why Pony would want to be stealth and doesn’t respect Pony’s decision. He berates Pony for not “supporting the trans community” by “hiding”. He even unfriends Pony for not being out. After Pony is hatecrimed, Max is like “damn I should’ve respected his decision, he was right”. This was such a great opportunity to have a conversation about both sides, being loud and being stealth. There are even the beginnings of such a conversation, when Max says something like “why do I have to deal with the oppression while you get to hide?” That could’ve been such a great conversation to have!!! And I wish that instead of it taking Pony getting literally hatecrimed for Max to accept him, they could’ve had that conversation. Additionally, Max’s whole story pretty much implied that it’s wrong to be loud and proud. He’s painted to be this ~crazy, blue-haired SJW~ who is trying to pressure his friends into putting themselves in harms way, and at the end of the story, he was the one in the wrong.

I just wish there was more nuance and more discussion about how neither is right; the only “right” way to be trans is the way that makes the trans person the most comfortable. Which ties into another thing that the book heavily implies, that there’s only one way of being trans: going stealth and undergoing a medical transition. Pony wants to medically transition, and spends a lot of the book worrying about taking testosterone and affording top surgery. Which is fine, and is the choice of the transperson. But it’s always painted as the only option, and the right option. Pony will not be a “real trans person” until he can have these procedures done. Again, this could’ve been a great place for a conversation about transmedicalism, but alas, that conversation was missed.

Last, this was 100% a book about assimilation. Which is fine; a lot of trans and queer people do want to assimilate into cishet culture, and that is their decision. But it’s not the only option, and it’s harmful and damaging to suggest that assimilation is the only way to be accepted by your cis peers. Cis and non-queer people should accept trans and queer people who don’t fit the cishet norm, and trans and queer people shouldn’t have to fit the cishet norm to be accepted. But in this book, Pony is rewarded for passing by dating the cishet, conventionally attractive, popular cheerleader. It’s the pinnacle of straight culture. Which, again, is fine but should not be the only desirable outcome. But the book, once again, suggests that assimilation is the best way forward for trans people. I wish there was more conversation here, like everything else in this book.

And because I’ve already spent so long talking about those other things, here are some other things I had issues with but don’t want to fully get into right now:

  • Georgia is the victim of revenge porn, and it’s never really condemned. Pony is like “damn that sucks, poor girl” and then moves on. No one really challenges it; it’s not treated as a good thing, but it’s definitely treated as just a thing that happens to high schoolers. It should’ve been taken a lot more seriously.
  • The blatant lesbophobia in this book is off the charts, and is again never really challenged. It’s a little challenged, but only the most egregious act and never the little microaggressions.
  • Georgia outs Pony to literally the whole world by writing a blog post outing him that goes viral, and it’s praised. It’s seem as a good thing and the peak of her allyship.
  • Pony’s bro friends are very bro-y, and a lot of their mysogyny, homophobia and bro-ness are never challenged, and are actually played into by Pony. This could’ve been a great moment for some growth for Pony, because I’m sure a lot of trans men lean too far the other way trying to be a “real man”, but it never was. His mysogynystic views are never challenged and he never changes.
  • This is a little thing, but Georgia was super annoying at times lmao and for no reason. She felt like she was written by someone who hadn’t interacted with a teenage girl in 15 years and was basing their perceptions on a mid-2000s teen movie.

That’s everything coming to mind right now.

Ultimately, this book felt like a book about trans people written for cis people. It felt like it was written for cis people to read more about trans people and to feel good about having read a book where they can better understand the trans struggle. And looking at Goodreads, the majority of five-star reviews are from cis people and the majority of negative reviews are from trans people. Soooooo just something to think about.


If you want a great own voices review, I’d highly recommend watching Ashton Daniels’ review of this book. He’s a trans person, and I agreed with everything in their review.


So there are my thoughts! Have you read this book? What were your thoughts? Let me know!

Ally xx


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One thought on “Book review: Stay Gold

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