Lily and Dunkin

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Lily and Dunkin Book Poster Image
Sensitive story of misfits striving to be their real selves.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 4 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Illuminates some of the emotional and physical stresses faced by transgender children and provides some tips on being respectful and considerate. Offers glimpse into the mind of someone with mental illness and shows why medication is not an easy fix. Discussion of protest, including activist Julia Butterfly Hill.

Positive Messages

"When you're brave and honest, you make it easier for the next person." Authenticity isn't always easy, but it's the most likely path to happiness. Real friends stick by you when no one else will. The people around you carry secrets that can help unlock who they are and why they behave the way they do.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Earnest and sincere, Lily tries to see the good in people -- and help them see it themselves. Her mother and sister are wonderful cheerleaders, and her father is deeply loving, though his relationship with Lily is more strained. Dunkin's heart is in the right place but he has a hard time reconciling what he knows to be right with a desire to fit in with popular peers. His mother and grandmother are warm and loving; they make an effort to give him room to adapt to his new circumstances and find his path, which makes it hard for them to discern when he's struggling.


Bullies harass classmate with taunts, spitting, and thrown objects. Group of kids pulls down a student's pants and underwear. References to someone who committed suicide.


Mild romantic interest and a few appraisals of teens' attractiveness.


Some cursing and coarse language, mostly in anger or to insult others, including "goddamn," "bastards," "shit," "friggin'," "f-g," and "pissed." References to "boobs" and "penis." Juvenile insults ("jerkface," "assosaurus"). Character is described as going "psycho."


Mentions of Pop-Tarts and other convenient snacks. Main character takes his nickname from Dunkin' Donuts.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Lily and Dunkin is a wonderfully written story about the start-and-stop friendship between an eighth-grader who is transgender and another who's struggling with mental illness. The bullies of one become the new friends of the other in this gently written story by Donna Gephart (Olivia Bean: Trivia Queen). There's a predictable amount of middle school cruelty, including the verbal and physical bullying of transgender Lily. Children also deal with some family strife, and an off-page character commits suicide. Both teens have warm, loving families but difficult relationships with their fathers.

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bypwmslibrary December 20, 2016

Lots to offer

The premise of the book centers around the 2 main characters, Tim (who identifies as Lily) and Norbert (nickname Dunkin). The book alternates between their pers... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old June 1, 2019

Crying and smiling at the same time

Wow. This book truly is a good book. I read it in the days with not much free time. It kept me interested the whole way.
Kid, 10 years old July 10, 2018

I don't know what to say

Lily and Dunkin is about a transgender girl and a boy with bipolar disorder who are about to start eighth grade. This book is realistic, and sadly enough, that... Continue reading

What's the story?

LILY AND DUNKIN meet just before they begin eighth grade. It's a new school for Dunkin, who's confused to realize that at school, Lily appears to be a boy named Tim. Dunkin (birth name: Norbert) is hiding secrets of his own, even from himself: He and his mother have moved to Florida to try to make a fresh start, but Dunkin's past isn't letting go. He starts easing off his mood stabilizers and antipsychotic medication, worried they're holding him back from reinventing himself on the basketball court. Meanwhile, Lily is desperate to start taking hormone blockers before it's too late. Her mother and sister are supportive, but her father refuses to let go of his son.

Is it any good?

This compassionate, skillfully told story focuses on two teens dealing with major challenges, but the themes -- authenticity, connection, and courage -- will resonate with anyone in middle school. In Lily and Dunkin, Donna Gephart -- inspired, in part, by her son's struggle with mental illness -- writes with keen understanding of how difficult it can be for teens to reconcile their inner selves with the persona they present to the world. Lily is very clear on who she is, but she's unsure of how to get everyone else to see her the way she wants to be seen. Dunkin, on the other hand, is less certain of when his medication helps and when it might be interfering.

Dual narratives are nicely balanced, sometimes showing the different ways the two characters regard the same incident. Dunkin's story feels messily real, but Lily's seems a bit too simplified and polished. She has a remarkably strong support system, and even her father's adversarial position is rooted in love and concern.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about trust and empathy in Lily and Dunkin. Why is it so hard for Lily and Dunkin to trust their instincts and open up to each other?

  • Do you think this is a realistic portrayal of middle schoolers? Do you think it's hard to show your authentic self at this age?

  • How does your view of Lily's father change over the course of the story?

Book details

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