Book Review: “Linus and Etta Could Use a Win”

Linus and Etta Could Use a Win by Caroline Huntoon
“Linus and Etta Could Use a Win” by Author Caroline Huntoon

Amidst the rise of middle grade novels with LGBTQ+ characters and themes, Linus and Etta Could Use a Win by Caroline Huntoon serves as an outstanding contribution to the table – a narrative that demonstrates the treasure of friendship and self-worth.

I’ve received an ARC of Linus and Etta Could Use a Win from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

I didn’t come out to myself as trans until 2020, the summer when I turned 30. I really couldn’t look up to a fellow or public transmasc/trans man figure through those years of groping for myself in the darkness because of the lack of representation back then. Less than a handful of books about trans kids and teens lined the shelves of the public libraries I visited, particularly during a time when I struggled with understanding my body. I wouldn’t see the various books about and by LGBTQ+ authors gracing an entire section at the Barnes & Noble in my area until three years after coming out. Sometime after that, I noticed – with excitement – middle grade titles with Queer characters and themes.

Before, the only other middle grade books with a trans character that I’d read or heard of were Melissa by Alex Gino and Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky, as well as a few YA books including Luna by Julie Anne Peters. Indie books by Queer authors kept me alive at a time when the few big-name publishers wouldn’t express interest in Queer children and teen narratives, let alone intersectional narratives that tackle the joys and challenges of being Queer.

Like other Queer people in my generation, I was cynical about the possibility of explicit Queer characters and relationships in children’s media – and by explicit, I mean more than just a line and or just showing up in one scene – until She-Ra proved me wrong. And then I found webcomics and graphic novels aimed at young audiences that include Queer characters and themes. Oh, and there’s even a children’s picture book titled Sam is my Sister (by Ashley Rhodes-Courter; illustrated by MacKenzie Haley) about a boy and his trans sister.

Along with other current/recent LGBTQ+ middle grade releases like Dear Mothman by Robin Gow, Emma and the Love Spell by Meredith Ireland, and The Curse of Eelgrass Bog by Mary Averling, Linus and Etta Could Use a Win by Caroline Huntoon (they/them) deserves a win for its heartwarming narrative.

Linus wants to start fresh. After coming out as trans last year, he’d rather not attract attention at his new school. Etta, however, isn’t as lucky. She stands out with her green-dyed hair but would rather keep to herself. After all, she is a misanthrope. When her ex-best friend Marigold bets her to get Linus to run for student body president, Etta starts to enjoy being Linus’s friend. Linus, however, doesn’t know the real reason for Etta’s friendship and encouragement… yet.

First off, the author does a phenomenal job of balancing between telling a story about being trans and telling a story about being yourself – a person with interests, relationships, and hopes. Caroline Huntoon proves that you can have both as a compelling narrative.

Linus deals with menstruation, his grandmother misgendering him, and worrying about how people would react when coming out to them. But the story also focuses on Linus’ friendship with Etta and his coming out of his shell. Huntoon has effortlessly written a well-developed trans character that a young trans person would find comfort and belonging with.

The novel alternates between Linus and Etta’s points of view, giving the reader an intimate glimpse into these two characters’ internal conflict. Linus and Etta make mistakes, hurt each other, and grow together. Their budding friendship is as endearing as it is challenging. This one is a sweet but effective story for its target audience.

Linus and Etta Could Use a Win is available from Macmillian.

And don’t forget to check out Caroline Huntoon’s website.

Author: Bradda M.

Bradda M. currently lives in Virginia. He teaches ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) at a public school and spends his free time reading and watching movies each night with his partner. For The Geekiary, he writes about webcomics and SFF media.

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