The North Pole is a city where people are a big sneaky. They claim to be scientists or explorers in the Arctic region to their families in southern climes, but really they work in factories, the post office, bakeries, all sorts of places you might expect if the North Pole were a real city not powered by magic. In fact, the magic is mostly in the aesthetic, something created through mystery. Well, the reindeer do fly, but in general, not super magic-y. Santa has yet to retire, and it’s unclear to his only child, Kristine, why. She’s been preparing herself to take over by working diligently and effectively as Santa’s assistant, through formal education, and an apprenticeship. Though she doesn’t take it for granted, Santa’s child is supposed to become the next Santa.
Miss Claus by J.R. Hart (they/them) is a sweet story with lots of determination, but avoids being overly fluffy when readers learn that Santa is not the head decision maker. The North Pole relies on The Council, nine members who vote to maintain the culture and traditions of the North Pole. It is at a meeting when Kris learns that their laws state Santa’s child shall take over if he wants the job. Using this gendered pronoun a tool to shove Kris aside and promote his own son, the head of The Council maintains he’s keeping to traditions.
The problem is, the son is Kris’s fiance, and the only way he’d be a shoe-in for the job instead of another guy is if he marries Santa’s daughter. Kris can’t help but think that her fiance, Mark, would be good for the job. He likes Christmas and children, is a lawyer and has a background in global studies. But would he bring passion to the position? And why should he get it just because he’s a man??? Given the genre’s propensity for drama, we must also assume Mark dated and engaged Kris for political reasons.
Hart blends interesting characters with a plot that reveals much about way people peg importance to gender. Part way through Miss Claus, we see Kris get out a syringe, and I assumed at first she was diabetic, but we learn she needs hormone injections every two weeks because Kris is a transwoman. I appreciated how this information was woven into the plot rather than announced. The most prominent characteristics Kris posses are determination, friendliness, being a workaholic, love of family, and a desire to push the North Pole just a bit away from tradition, even if that means changing the color scheme of a Christmas party from green and red to blue and silver. I was glad to see a trans person in a book who was a whole person, not a walking label.
Even Mark, the fiance, isn’t as straightforward as he might be in a Hallmark holiday movie. He really does love children and thinks Kris would make a great Mrs. Claus, a position that would require work in and development of philanthropy (sounds like the position of First Lady of the U.S.). Although that job is important, Kris doesn’t see herself doing it just because she’s a woman. Plus, it doesn’t make sense that Mark’s father wants all tradition and then tries to develop a campaign to have children leave Santa healthy snacks instead of cookies (suggesting that Mark is thin and they need to be ready for that). Kris, described as a fat woman, would promote health issues to children. There is a whole scene in which Kris must argue for the equal rights of fat people because Mark’s father is trying to make Kris literally look like the wrong person to be Santa.
Vibing just below the surface is a letter from a little girl named Carolyn. Kris was tasked with answering Carolyn’s letter in which the girl notes that her name has changed and would someone at the North Pole please fix it? And while she’s grateful she received trucks last year, she would like some lip gloss this year. If children like Carolyn are out there asking Santa for acceptance, how can an adult like Kris just lie down and take misogyny in the name of tradition?
Miss Claus is a great holiday read with a more serious drive behind it while still being fuzzy and Christmasy. The ending scene had some wonderful drama that made me shout aloud “woohoo!” at one point, which never fails to scare the spouse.
CW: fat shaming and transphobia