Chyna Doll (Horizons #4), Mickie B. Ashling
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: LGBTQI New Adult
Tags: Bullying, High School, Intersex Main Character, New Adult, Romance
Purchase At: Dreamspinner Press, amazon.com
Mickie B. Ashling stopped by on March 11th as part of the Chyna Doll blog tour. The giveaway has ended, but check out an excerpt from the book here.
Lil Lampert’s forty-fifth birthday turns the effervescent architect into a brooding mess, and his partner, Grier Dilorio, takes him to Italy to help him regain his zest for life. The timing is bad—almost-fifteen-year-old Luca has just started high school, and his mother and stepfather are also traveling. Luca is left in the care of Chicago Bear, Clark Stevens, and his partner, Dr. Jody Williams.
Growing up with two dads and two gay uncles has given Luca a unique perspective on gender roles, but not all the answers. He’s had a secret crush on his straight best friend, Chip, for years. Suddenly, Luca finds himself attracted to Chyna, Chip’s twin sister. Now he’s wondering if this means he’s bisexual.
Born with a sexual development disorder, Chyna should have been raised as a male, but due to an epic parenting fail, is being raised as female. Hiding the truth becomes more difficult when Chyna hits puberty, and crushing over Luca adds another element to Chyna’s struggle to fit in.
Is Luca’s moral compass strong enough to guide him successfully through this period of discovery or will he succumb to peer pressure and shatter Chyna’s dreams for happiness?
I’m not usually one to read a book in a series without reading the ones before it. Actually, it’s something I never do. I took a chance with Chyna Doll because it was stressed that it most definitely could be read as a standalone. I’m really glad I did. At no point did I feel lost or confused in regards to the main characters or secondaries introduced in the stories before it. Sure, I’d like to know how some of them got where they did in Luca and Chyna’s story, but the author explained enough where I never felt like I was missing anything. Of course, now I want to go back and read the first three books and I will just as soon as time allows. I have them all and I can’t wait to do just that. I should also point out that while the main characters (Luca and Chyna) are teenagers, this is not a young adult story.
With that being said, now my thoughts on Chyna Doll.
This is a difficult book to review for a variety of reasons, one of which is the fact that I’ve never read a full-length novel about a character born intersex. I must stress that it’s obvious the author did her homework in regards to intersex individuals. Not only that, she also wrote Chyna where you could genuinely feel her emotions in regards to everything she was going through.
Chyna and Chip are fifteen-year-old twins, born after one in vitro procedure after another. Their parents. Jack and Lisa, were high school sweethearts who went on to get married. The next step was having children. When the children didn’t come along as planned, they were forced to try other methods in hopes of becoming parents. When the twins were born everything changed. Chip was your typical baby boy. The other baby was born (as the doctors described it) as intersex, meaning born with both male and female organs. To say neither parent took this news well would be a major understatement. Because the baby was born with a penis, it was strongly, STRONGLY suggested that he be raised as a male. When he got older and discovered his identity, then decisions could be made in regards to which way to go (in regards to hormone treatments, plastic surgery if that’s what’s wanted, etc.) Oh, no. Lisa wouldn’t hear of it. Lisa wanted a baby girl and damn it, she was going to have that baby girl. She didn’t care what the doctors or anyone said. She never once even considered what type of damage she’d be inflicting on the child later. The baby would be named Chyna and Chyna would be raised as a girl and nothing and no one would change her mind on that.
“… for the record, we don’t use the term hermaphrodite anymore. Individuals born with both reproductive organs are referred to as intersex.”
“Semantics,” Jack said angrily. “They’re abnormal, no matter how you shake it or play it.”
“Mr. Davidson,” the doctor said sternly. “I would caution you about using that sort of language around your child.”
“Then fix him!””
“This is fucking bullshit,” Jack said in exasperation. “After all the time and money we put into this, we were expecting perfectly normal children.”
I should probably say now that I despised Lisa and I despised Jack. If there were awards for worst parents, they’d be high up there. I’ll come back to them.
Then we meet Luca. Luca is fifteen and the popular freshman quarterback at the local high school. His parents, Lil and Grier, are devoted and love him dearly. As I said above, I didn’t read their story (yet), but I do know that Luca had already been introduced before. Lil is having a midlife crisis so he and Grier take off to Italy for a month of R & R. Not many parents would take off for four weeks when their only child is just starting high school, but you can’t judge these guys for doing it. They are obviously amazing parents, but when I say midlife crisis for Lil? I mean the guy really needed to get away – and to get a grip. I liked him and Grier right off, even if I did think that Lil went to the extreme a bit. There’s quite a bit of an age difference between the two, and Lil, at 45, was in constant fear of Grier leaving him for another man (though he’d never given him reason to believe he would) or something catastrophic happening. Where I could really see where he was coming from (in a sense), I kept thinking “Hmm… he’s around my age and he’s convinced he’s old. Does that make ME old?” 😉
Luca has always had a crush on Chip, who has been his best friend for ages. Chip, of course, isn’t aware of this crush. Not only that, but Chip is very straight and Luca hasn’t quite figured out what he is yet. He’s never been interested in girls and he’s always crushed on Chip (like I said). Fairly convinced he’s gay like his fathers, he starts getting really confused when he starts getting feelings for – and aroused by – Chip’s twin, Chyna. Well, Chyna is a girl, right? Does that mean he – Luca – is straight? Bisexual? Convinced he falls into the hetero category, he and Chyna start getting close. Chyna, because of her secret, is understandably terrified. What happens when Luca finds out who she really is? Will he walk away from her and abandon her like her father did? Will she disgust him?
I felt so sorry for Chyna and as a parent I wanted to wrap her in my arms and protect her from the big, bad world. Keeping her secret was easy enough growing up, but now that she’s reached puberty? Let’s just say that some things aren’t that easy to hide. Her mother (who she and Chip live with) is no help. Sure, she gives Chyna pills that are supposed to keep her male characteristics at bay, but suddenly they aren’t working. Chyna is convinced that breast implants will make her feel more like the girl she’s been told she is her entire life. Why won’t her parents see reason? Do they not care that she’s miserable with the flat chest and other things? Why can’t she be like the other girls at school? The girls, I might add, who were her best friends until she had to quit the cheerleading squad because there are some things that can’t be hidden under those cheerleading skirts. These girls, who are now bullying her on a daily basis and even go so far as to physically harm her in one instance. Ashley, the main one, has a thing for Luca and she doesn’t take too kindly to the attention Luca is giving Chyna all of a sudden. The taunts and snide remarks escalate as the story plays out and they end with something critical happening that could devastate Chyna. I won’t give it away, but my heart broke.
Chyna is a tall and beautiful girl. Her hair is long and a very unique red. One day she’s approached by a photographer and asked if she’d ever considered modeling. You’re thinking “Uh huh. What a line” but in reality, the guy really is a legitimate photographer. Of course, the thought of Chyna modeling – and God forbid her secret coming out – terrifies Lisa and no way in hell will she be allowing her daughter to do anything of the sort. Chyna, as has become her norm with her mother, lashes out and does it often. Imagine for a second that you are a teenager. Remember the hormones running rampant at that time? Imagine being in Chyna’s shoes. She wants nothing more than to be like everyone else. Her mother is ashamed of her and refuses to acknowledge the fact that she did her daughter wrong when she was born (another understatement). Her father has a new family and can’t even look her in the eye during mandatory visits because he knows he should’ve fought like hell for his child when she was born instead of going along with his then-wife when she insisted on calling Chyna female. Who wouldn’t be difficult? Chyna is written extremely well – everything from her lashing out tantrums to her emotional moments when she is alone in her bedroom. Chip is all she has. Well, him and Luca, but what happens when Luca – who has asked her to be his girlfriend – discovers that maybe ‘girl’ friend might not be so accurate?
Luca is dealing with his own issues. He’s still wavering on his own sexuality, though he’s now fairly convinced he’s straight because of Chyna. No longer is he fantasizing about her brother. He’s fantasizing about the beautiful girl with long red hair.
Then everything changes.
Saying anything more than that would be too telling, so I’ll stop there.
Overall, this is an outstanding book. The author wrote the subject with the utmost of sensitivity and (as I say above) you can tell that a lot of time and research went into getting Chyna right in regards to her being intersex. There are no words for how much I hated Chyna and Chip’s parents. Lisa, because she went beyond a mistake here and there and flat out broke the law and put her child in danger to keep Chyna’s secret. Jack, because he didn’t have the balls to stand up and do the right thing by his children. Instead of putting his foot down, he ran. Oh, he didn’t just run, he got married again, had a couple more kids and basically pretended the ones he already had didn’t exist anymore. He was decent enough during their visits, but he never went the extra mile and he damn sure never gave Chyna any support. That was Chip. All Chip. Chip is one of the best characters (teenage or otherwise) I’ve ever seen in a book. He’s every person’s dream sibling and son. Also, something very refreshing that I have to mention…. Chyna, Luca and Chip are written as real teenagers. While that may not seem like a big thing, it most definitely is in my eyes. I raised three sons. Teens curse. They talk about sex. They have sex. Mickie B. Ashling wrote these kids the way teenagers are in the real world. I’ve only read one other author (he knows who he is) who has done that and not shied away from possibly offending someone because teenagers talked about or did certain things. Those things played a huge part in why Chyna was so bullied by her former friends. She was a so-called good girl who didn’t drop to her knees just to be popular. Instead of respecting her for it, they condemned her. They didn’t know her secret, but it didn’t matter. It was all about them judging her for silly reasons.
I can’t end this without mentioning other characters – Melinda, a new friend of Chyna’s, was wonderful. She understood (too well) what Chyna was going through. There were also Jody and Clark (from Horizons, #1) who take Luca in while his fathers are away. You can’t not love these guys. Lil and Grier I already mentioned. There was quite a bit of on-page sex time with them and it was very hot.
I really enjoyed this. I can’t wait to go back and see where it all began.
This book was provided by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Excellent review of a complex subject, Cindi. Nice pic/quotes as well 🙂 It was interesting reading the doctor’s thoughts about “Chyna” as a baby, they don’t always leave it open for the child to decide later, sadly. The parents would have totally pissed me off ….TOTALLY. I got angry just reading the quotes you used for your review.
This series sounds very good, this book in particular. I applaud the author for tackling a subject most leave alone and obviously handling it sensitively and well.
Thanks, Kazza. I like how the doctors insisted on allowing Chyna to decide later. Unfortunately, her sorry excuse for parents didn’t give her any choice at all. The parents… I have no words. I could’ve filled this review with quotes by them, but I wanted to focus on Chyna and Luca. Also, they made me angry, as I’m sure you can imagine. This is an outstanding book. You know how I am about reading books in a series out of order. I never, for one second, felt I was missing anything by not reading the first three books. This is… Read more »
I know that I am going to enjoy reading this book.
I hope you do, Felicia. I really enjoyed it.
I absolutely loved this review Cindi! I also really really have this compunction if I don’t read a series in order! However, because of your review I will read Chyna Doll first. Thank you!
Thanks so much, Ree. I seriously loved this book and I never read books out of order in a series. I’m slowly working my way through the others now.
I look forward to hearing what you think of Chyna Doll. Stop back in and let me know. 🙂
Cindi, Thank you again for this wonderful review of Chyna Doll. You’ got right to the heart of the story and covered it beautifully. I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate your thorough and insightful analysis of my novel.
You’re very welcome, Mickie. You took a subject that needs to be written about (but usually isn’t) and you did it with sensitivity. It’s an excellent book and I’m so glad I read it.
You just strengthened my resolve to get this book.
Thanks for saying that, Marilyn. I hope you enjoy it.
I’m really beginning to anticipate the release of this novel. It sounds full of plot from what I can tell of the synopsis.
It’s definitely full of plot. I hope you like it as much as I did, Kimberly.
What a wonderful review. I really enjoy M. Ashling’s writing. I have read Taste and Daddio (Horizons 2&3). Lil and Grier are 2 of my favorite characters. I can’t wait to read this book.
Thank you, Denise. I’m slowly working my way through the others in the series now. I’ve read Horizons and Taste so far. My reviews will be up at a later date. With me reading Chyna Doll first, it’s pretty cool going back to see where the other characters came from.
I had to stop reading your review midway through because it was too good, lol. I’m in the middle of reading Horizons (Jody and Clark’s story) and reading this post makes me want to skip ahead (since you said it could be read as a standalone). Thanks for the post =)
Thank you so much, H.B. That’s very kind of you to say about my review. I held off for a few days after finishing it before I attempted my review (something I rarely do). I wanted to make sure I conveyed my feelings for the book without giving too much away. I hope I did.
Looking forward to reading this one! Looks amazing!
That was an outstanding review Cindi. I already feel invested, I’m not sure if I want to wait to read the previous books before sinking into this amazing sounding book.
Thank you so much, Judy. You really don’t have to read the first 3 in the series before Chyna Doll, though I do recommend them at some point. I didn’t and I don’t believe I missed anything. Since I reviewed Chyna Doll, I’ve read Horizons (#1) and Taste (#2) and have just started on Daddio (reviews to come another time). Even seeing where the other characters (including Luca) came from, I still stand by my statement that Chyna Doll can definitely be read as a standalone.
I can’t wait to see what you think. It’s seriously a fantastic book.
I love this series so it was an added bonus for me to be able to catch up with both couples. Cindi, your review was spot on. This book blew me away. I think everyone should read it. It is fascinating, informative, and heartbreaking. I really loved it and hope we get to read more about Luca and Chyna when they are older. 🙂
Thank you so much, Lisa. You and I usually agree on books so I’m not surprised you enjoyed Chyna Doll as much as I did. I’m eager to see Luca and Chyna farther down the road as well. I’ve really gotten sucked into the series and I can’t wait to see what happens later. The author wrote Chyna very REAL and my heart broke a lot while reading her story. I can’t say enough about how much I loved this book. Definitely a new favorite for me.
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