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.
Review: Lily and Dunkin is a heartwarming story about two marginalized tweens. The story is told in alternating chapters between Lily and Dunkin. Lily's story is the focus for the first half of the book. We learn that she was born biologically as a boy, but identifies as a girl. Only Lily's family knows of her real identity though she still appears as a boy in school. Lily struggles with wanting to be true to herself while also being afraid how other people would react to her especially since she is already being bullied and called homophobic slurs by some of the boys on the school basketball team who she dubs as the Neanderthals. With the encouragement of Dare, her sister, and her mother, Lily slowly becomes comfortable in her own skin and expressing her true identity in small steps such as wearing nail polish to school. Readers can easily relate to Lily's internal struggle of being true to herself as well as gaining self-confidence and self-love. The author does point out some of the difficulties of Lily's father accepting her and the financial burden of getting hormonal drugs. I really liked Lily and though at times she did seem a little too perfect, I loved her optimism and her strength.
Along with Lily's journey of self-discovery and empowerment, there is her new friend Norbert, whom she has nicknamed Dunkin (chosen for his obsession for Dunkin Donuts). Dunkin also has a secret. He and his mother moved to Florida since the passing of his father. Dunkin clearly suffers from a mental illness, which we later find out that he is bipolar. Unlike Lily, Dunkin's journey is a lot subtle, builds up slowly, and is the focus of the second hand of the book. We watch him and feel his anxiety of starting a new school and not wanting to think of his father. Dunkin also has to deal with peer pressure of sitting and being friends with the popular basketball players who bully Lily and Dare. Though he knows bullying is wrong, he is much more afraid of being alone and he wants to be popular in school. Dunkin's popularity is interestingly not because of something he does, but simply because he is very tall and the basketball players at his school assume he is a great basketball player. Ironically, Dunkin is not. To ensure he has the energy to play, Dunkin goes off his meds. Both Lily and Dunkin's story converge at the end as they both realize how they are ostracized by their classmates, but they seek companionship with each other.
The only thing that really bothered me in this book is that the bullying Lily endured always happened at school. I was disappointed to see that there were no adult supervisors were around when the bullying occurred and that Lily did not speak up about bullying with her parents. Overall, I did enjoy Lily and Dunkin and I think it would be great book discussion for middle schoolers.
Rating: 4 stars
Words of Caution: There are scenes of bullying and the inclusion of homophobic slurs. Recommended for strong Grade 4 readers and up.
If you like this book try: George by Alex Gino, Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks