Ten-year-old Evelyn’s life has always had a sameness about it: she lives in a brown, two-bedroom house among a row of brown, two-bedroom houses; her mother buys her stiff leather loafers at Frederick’s Footwear once a year; she snacks on milk and oatcakes every day after school. But change is afoot – Frederick’s is now Budget Shoes, Evelyn is allowed blue canvas “near-runners,” and a new boy in school wears shiny shorts and goes by the name Queen.
Classmates talk about Queen behind his back and tease him to his face. But A Boy Named Queen does not invoke the “misery plot” once so prevalent in LGBTQ lit. Queen is not about to crack under the pressure of bullies, is not searching for his identity, is not on the verge of coming out. In fact, Queen’s orientation is never mentioned. Just like the kids at school, readers are left to make their own assumptions.
Author Sara Cassidy takes a more subtle approach to “being different” in this character-driven novel. As Queen’s only friend, Evelyn is the sole guest at his birthday party, where she experiences a cool new world – one filled with free-spirited, tattooed parents, red-painted walls, a dad who cooks, and a music room where the family rocks out together. Queen’s life is an eye-opening and liberating awakening from Evelyn’s staid upbringing. The kids at school would also be impressed, were they not so quick to judge and dismiss.
Amiable Evelyn and self-assured Queen are wonderfully strong role models, and the characters throughout are relatable and familiar. Some minor details seem out of place, and the “appearances can be deceiving” conclusion feels vague and may leave some readers scratching their heads. But overall, Cassidy does a lovely job of letting the lessons of embracing individuality, confidence, acceptance, and tolerance clearly and cleverly reveal themselves in this short but punchy novel.