Lilly and Dunkin - Donna Gephhart

Sometimes our hearts see things our eyes can’t.

Lily Jo McGrother, born Timothy McGrother, is a girl. But being a girl is not so easy when you look like a boy. Especially when you’re in the eighth grade.

Dunkin Dorfman, birth name Norbert Dorfman, is dealing with bipolar disorder and has just moved from the New Jersey town he’s called home for the past thirteen years. This would be hard enough, but the fact that he is also hiding from a painful secret makes it even worse.

One summer morning, Lily Jo McGrother meets Dunkin Dorfman, and their lives forever change.


I am in love with the fact that more and more representations of trans lives of younger people are being included in children's publishing. Though I continue to be glad that such characters are becoming more plentiful in middle grade fiction, I must make a note that I think there needs to be more representation of racially diverse trans characters and trans characters with disabilities, etc. That being said, Lily and Dunkin is a beautiful portrayal of the relationship between Tim/Lily and a young boy, Dunkin, who is suffering from bipolar disorder.

Lily has a supportive sister and mother, but a much less supportive father and grandmother. Lily is trying to convince her parents that she needs hormone blockers in order to stop developing masculine sex characteristics, but her father is incredibly resistant due to his own conservative upbringing and prejudices; he does not want to lose the son he thought he had, convincing himself this is all just a phase. Lily's sister, Sarah, and her friend, Dare, try to help Lily express herself better and become more feminine throughout the novel, helping her with makeup, clothing choices, and ways of expressing herself. As she tries to explore her new identity in public, at school especially, she comes up against resistance in the form of the Neanderthals, the jocks and bullies who make her life much more difficult than it should be.

This brings us to Norbert (aka Dunkin), who has moved to town recently and is reluctant to discuss his situation with others. Upon starting school and after initially befriending Lily, Dunkin falls in with the wrong crowd, becoming convinced that he needs to become one of the Neanderthals in order to be popular and keep out of trouble. Lily feels this as a personal betrayal, and their relationship becomes much more complicated as time goes by. Dunkin, however, has much more going on in his life. His mother is incredibly sad all the time, and his father is no longer around, and in order to become a better basketball player (or so he hopes), Dunkin begins to alter his own medication doses. Even though he is on the road to a breakdown, however, Dunkin is still kind and caring to Lily, at least at times:
"What do you want me to call you?" 
"Wow." 
"Wow? That's a dumb name." 
We both crack up. 
"Dunkin, that might be the nicest thing anyone has ever asked me." 
He shrugs, like it's no big deal, but it totally is a big deal. That one little question is so respectful and thoughtful, Dunkin has no idea how much this means to me.
The story manages to keep from being saccharine and overly didactic, but also manages to be informative. Though there is discussion of transitioning or a possible future including surgery, what I love about this novel is the discussion of hormone blockers. Many times in YA literature, there is talk of hormones and surgery, much more permanent possibilities for gender confirmation. But what often gets forgotten, is that trans children have access to ways of halting certain aspects of development so that they can avoid greater feelings of dysphoria. Anyway, this is getting more theoretical than I meant to, but it's important nonetheless and I feel the need to highlight it.

Both Lily and Dunkin are strong and terrifically constructed characters, full of life and incredibly fragile at the same time. Though the story itself is rather simple, the character development and relationship building is rich and masterfully written. Gephart's talents shine through here, and will give readers much to love and think about, in relation to gender, mental illness, friendship, and family. 

Highly Recommended

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