Review: Act Cool by Tobly McSmith


A trans teen walks the fine line between doing whatever it takes for his acting dream and staying true to himself in this moving, thought-provoking YA novel from the acclaimed author of Stay Gold.

Aspiring actor August Greene just landed a coveted spot at the prestigious School of Performing Arts in New York. There’s only one problem: His conservative parents won’t accept that he’s transgender. And to stay with his aunt in the city, August must promise them he won’t transition.

August is convinced he can play the part his parents want while acting cool and confident in the company of his talented new friends.

But who is August when the lights go down? And where will he turn when the roles start hitting a little too close to home?


Act Cool is a brilliant book for teens, centered around the main character August moving to New York and starting at an arts school, studying theatre/acting. However, August has just run away from home, to stay with his Aunt Lil, because his parents are highly religious and will not accept that he is transgender.

Throughout the storyline we have the ‘usual’ tropes of starting a new school, making friends, having crushes, but with the twist of August and his acting skills. I enjoyed the concept that August puts on an act to be who he thinks he needs to be for the people he is with, the cool guy, the funny guy, the confident guy. I think so many people do this as a coping mechanism, I know I have before, and so it makes him instantly relatable. We also, of course, and more importantly, have the storyline of August finally being able to live as himself, his Aunt is accepting where his parents aren’t. I liked that whilst we see the turmoil August goes through over his parent’s acceptance (or rather lack of) he has his Aunt to love and care for him. We see how he has, in a way, pushed his feelings aside and constantly covers with his acting, but for his career in theatre to really get going, he has to ‘go there’ and address it all.

I feel this book is incredibly important with its messaging, it acknowledges the really horrible, crappy, despicable things that can and do happen to transgender teens, it doesn’t shy away from the real gritty parts. But, in doing so it is telling these young people that they are seen and they are not alone in this. For any cisgender readers, it builds empathy and understanding.

I loved that in the end, he could truly be himself, not only in terms of his gender identity but also just being himself, not having to put on an act for others.

I will definitely be adding this to our school library!

Thank you to Quill Tree Books for the e-arc to review.

Author Bio

Tobly McSmith is the author of Stay Gold, an Indies Introduce Pick and an SLJ Best Book of the Year. Tobly was born in Texas and now lives in New York City with his two cats, Bam-Bam and Bananas McSmith. Tobly is proud to be transgender.


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