Reviewed by Rod McLary
Towards the end of this book about gender and queerness, two of the characters have the following brief conversation –
Do you know about gender euphoria?
Is it just like, good feelings? About gender?
It’s like … the opposite of dysphoria. 
Dysphoria is defined as ‘a state of unease with life’ while euphoria means ‘a state of happiness’.
This brief exchange between Iris and ‘the boy’ succinctly encapsulates the intent of this rather gentle and likeable book about three friends – Iris, Babs and ‘the boy’. He is named this way because he is transitioning and has yet to choose his new [male] name. In fact, all three are transitioning as they at different times disclose to each other.
Alison Evans has written a book steeped in magical realism where the three protagonists – at the beginning of the book – are unknown to each other but attend the same school in Melbourne. They are about 15 years old and are drawn to each other as each recognises something of themselves in the others.
Iris was born from a seed – that is, a plant seed – and she was tended by faeries until her birth as a human when she joined her mothers. Babs is made of fire and lives with her single mother. Because of a curse by a witch, Babs regularly fades from view of those around her – except for her mother and one or two others. The boy is Arabian and lives with his father – his mother has died.
Consistent with the book’s general theme of non-binary gender, Iris uses they/them pronouns rather than he/she. This can be a little grammatically disconcerting as in the following sentence ‘Vada!’ I stray off the park and go to them; they embrace me [34-35].
However, throughout the book, the themes of non-binary gender and transitioning are addressed with sensitivity and a matter-of-fact approach. These matters are simply part of the society in which the three young people live and no undue attention is given to them at any time.
The three young people set off to find the witch who cursed Babs and have the spell reversed. To do so, they need to travel through a magical forest where time moves at a different pace and the trees have names and can speak to humans. As in all good magical books, the trio are faced with a number of challenges and trials which fortunately they are able to successfully overcome. What sustains them through these trials is not only their ingenuity and courage but also their friendship and the security of knowing they are loved by their families. It may well be that the forest is a metaphor for the challenges facing young people who are non-binary or transitioning and the best way to survive and to survive well is to have good friendships and the acceptance of family.
As Iris says to herself at the end of the story – I can feel the warmth of them both in my bones, and I know it’ll be the best summer .
Alison Evans has woven a magical book which is infused with love and friendship.
They have said that they want ‘the young trans kids that will read this book to be proud of who they are, and imagine wonderful, magic lives for themselves’ [foreword].
The author has successfully achieved this and any young trans kid who does read the book will be comforted in knowing that they do have a place in this world.
Alison Evans is a non-binary author from Melbourne. Their first book Ida was published in 2017 and won the People’s Choice Award in Victorian Premier’s Awards 2018. Highway Bodies – Alison’s second book – has been Highly Commended by judges for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Writing for Young Adults 2019. Alison is a regular speaker at festivals, schools and events on writing, gender and sexuality.
by Alison Evans
ISBN 978 1 76068 585 0