Wishing Nonbinary Readers All The Best

Mason Deaver's "I Wish You All The Best" has positive nonbinary representation and romance worth cheering for.

June 28, 2019 at 8:49 am

I’m twenty-eight years old and I love reading young adult literature. When I started reading YA novels in middle school, I was fascinated particularly by how they discussed topics that were typically forbidden in my household, especially LGBTQ characters. As long as the title was generic enough or the cover was not explicitly gay, I could get away with reading it without potentially outing myself. Even with the variety of LGBTQ books that I had access to back then, it was difficult to find transgender representation. The few books that were out focused on the points of view of cis friends and family — the plots were consistently about their struggle to accept a trans person, while failing to provide any autonomy to the trans characters themselves. It’s taken over a decade of reading YA, but I’ve finally found beautiful, authentic representation in Mason Deaver’s novel I Wish You All the Best.

When I initially saw the announcement for the novel, I was a bit nervous. The pitch was about a nonbinary protagonist who has to deal with the aftermath of coming out to their parents. I shared the information on social media while also admitting that I was scared to be too excited. I wanted to see a fellow nonbinary writer succeed, but what if the story still fell victim to all the tropes that so many cis authors were caught up in? Even with this fear, I ended up going to two separate book stores the week it came out, searching for a copy. I started reading it on my train ride home and finished it the next morning. When I got to the final page, I screamed with joy.

Back when I was in high school, which was a decade ago at this point, the first YA book featuring a canonically trans character was released — Luna by Julie Anne Peters. Unfortunately, it set a lot of harmful groundwork for how to write trans characters, complete with a frame story of an outsider telling a trans narrative (in this case Luna’s cis sister). This trend is also reflected in another novel that was released around that time — What Happened to Lani Garver by Carol Plum-Ucci. This time, a cis girl meets a character who is seemingly genderless, which is such a source of strife that they get bashed for it.

As an adult nonbinary, trans person, I can list the issues that are unique to each book and consistent with both of them. But as a queer kid who was only beginning to question my gender, I hung onto these books. I was intrigued by Luna, though I was terrified by the premise of going against my parents’ expectations. I was obsessed with the fact that Lani refused to identify with a gender. I was able to watch with fascination, hiding behind the cis protagonists’ perspectives.

As an adult nonbinary, trans person, I can list the issues that are unique to each book and consistent with both of them. But as a queer kid who was only beginning to question my gender, I hung onto these books. I was intrigued by Luna, though I was terrified by the premise of going against my parents’ expectations. I was obsessed with the fact that Lani refused to identify with a gender. I was able to watch with fascination, hiding behind the cis protagonists’ perspectives.

Ten years later, I Wish You All the Best resonates with a lot of my lived experience as a nonbinary person, while also providing some wish fulfillment. Perhaps it’s because Deaver is entirely aware of the devastation and joy that is being nonbinary. The protagonist of the novel, Ben, spends most of the book reeling from a disastrous coming out that results in their getting kicked out of their home. This trauma then compounds Ben’s existing struggles with anxiety and depression. Their estranged sister, who takes them in right after they come out to their parents, insists that they start therapy. Where past trans narratives leaned on the emotional distress of a cis protagonist processing another person’s transness, I Wish You All the Best actively explores a trans person’s processing their own pain through thoughtful narration and extensive scenes of mental health treatment.

With this pain better personalized to trans readers, there comes a personalized payoff. This story allows us to experience triumph in so many ways. For one, Deaver is not afraid to promote the idea of seeking love outside of parental love. Ben finds familial love through their sister, her husband, and the new friends they make. While Ben’s parents attempt to make contact with them, Deaver avoids falling into the trap that many YA novels do — the trap of suggesting that biological parents must always be forgiven for their abuses. Instead, Deaver emphasizes the love that Ben finds outside of their parents and how they grow as a person through the pain that their parents had caused. There’s also a romance worth cheering for…

Young adult fiction has its fair share of romance, but as an adult it’s been difficult to find a fictional romance worth squealing over. Thankfully, I Wish You All the Best has an amazing romantic interest in Nathan — an exuberant kid at Ben’s new school who is unrelenting in his kindness as Ben is struggling. He does not react to everything perfectly, but he’s willing to learn. Nathan provides a bright sunbeam of care toward Ben’s calmer demeanor. It’s a great way to reiterate to trans readers of all ages that we deserve love, but it’s also just a dang good love story that you want to see through to the end!

I Wish You All the Best is not a cure for the years of misguided or wholly absent representation in the publishing world. But, it feels like a step in the right direction. There are so many different ways people relate to being nonbinary, with all these experiences worthy of being written about. I’m optimistic that kids nowadays are going to have more options when they are looking for YA books, and the fact that there are books like Mason Deaver’s I Wish You All the Best also provides some comfort to the adults who still find a home in those shelves.

Further Reading

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo. This novel has the distinction of being one of the first trans YA novels written by a trans author and released by a major publisher. The story itself is focused on a girl starting at a new school while trying to keep her transness a secret.

Birthday by Meredith Russo. This novel is a recent release, focused on the relationship between two characters who are born on the same day, in the same hospital. They try to make sense of their relationship dynamic as the two of them, one of whom is transitioning to a girl, explore their identities.

George by Alex Gino. This one is actually a middle grade book, but it’s worth recommending! This story is focused on a trans girl fourth-grader who wants to play Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web.

Our Dreams at Dusk: Shimanami Tasogare by Yuhki Kamatani. This is an excellent manga series that is officially being released in English by Seven Seas. Yuhki Kamatani is an asexual and X-gender mangaka writing about a teenager who is led to a safe space run by and for LGBTQ people.


Donnie Martino

Donnie Martino is a writer and middle school wrangler based out of New Jersey. He loves hairless animals, Theme Park Youtube, and playing tabletop games with kids. He's also the co-host of "I Hope I Can Make it Through: A Degrassi Viewing Podcast," where he gets to talk about Degrassi weekly with his friends.