When we were asked to find books for Diverse Books Week in our 2018 Reading Challenge Month, I knew that pairing a bisexual, half Jewish boy with a devout LDS Mormon boy could not get much better in the diversity area. Plus, I had heard such good things about author Christina Lauren’s novel, Autoboyography, that I just had to dive in and I can say unequivocally that I am thrilled that I did.
Tanner Scott is the son of a former Mormon mother and a Jewish father—both of whom went against their family in order to marry, but who could not be more supportive of their bisexual son. To understand the impact of a Mormon son or daughter going against their family and the church is to grasp what it must be like to be shunned completely and irrevocably—losing all contact from one’s loved ones and considered to never be able to gain the heaven that awaits the devout. This granite belief is the basis for the story that the author unfolds in painstaking clarity and remarkable compassion.
Tanner would love to be attracted to his best friend Autumn, but the spark is not there, even though she not so secretly loves him beyond their close friendship. When she encourages him to take The Seminar in their last semester of high school—a writing course that dictates one have a finished novel by the end of the semester–Tanner almost jokingly rises to the challenge. When the teacher surprises the class with a former student who has successfully published his novel from the prior year and is about to go on a book tour to launch said book, Tanner is gobsmacked.
Aspiring novelist and devout Mormon, Sebastian Brother, is helping out as a TA in order to give back to the teacher who helped him launch his own writing career. Sebastian’s life path is set: assist in class, go on his book tour, and then on his two year mission trip demanded by the church he loves. During that time he will remain chaste, have little communication with family or friends, and spread the Mormon faith one convert at a time. Everything is settled and Sebastian is ready—until he meets Tanner. The two young men dance around the feelings they have for each other for a bit until they realize that theirs is an attraction that cannot be denied. But while Tanner knows who he is, his mother’s fear of being in a predominately Mormon town has her and the entire Scott family hiding Tanner’s bisexuality—even Tanner’s best friend Autumn doesn’t know. So when Tanner’s parents see their son falling for a devoutly religious boy, they warn him that little but grief can come from this hidden relationship. However, feelings cannot be denied—unless you are Sebastian Brother who refuses to label himself or think about any future with Tanner beyond this moment—a moment that leaves both men breathless and falling in love.
This novel was simply outstanding—I was bowled over by the author’s ability to get inside the head of both Tanner and Sebastian and watched with my fist in my mouth as their lives unraveled. It was such a simple thing—this attraction both boys felt. But the devastating effects it might have on both of them hung over everything they did and it was like watching a train wreck you knew had to come. Interspersed with this light layer of angst were some of the sweetest moments—coming of age and coming out combined to make the journey for these two read so beautifully. That’s not to say that their journey was easy. There was a lot of pain in this story, but it was balanced by such joyous moments of self discovery that it offset the swift sense of loss and despair both Seb and Tanner would experience.
Their lives were so very different—Tanner’s home being a bastion of acceptance and unconditional love and Sebastian’s being one of rigid control and happiness predicated on devout service to the church and God. In some ways, even though their lives were so diverse, both boys experienced feelings of repression and doubt. For Tanner, having parents who had imposed a cone of silence about the fact that he was bisexual due to their living in a town that would never accept him and potentially make his life a living hell meant that Tanner lived a lie—a secret, furtive kind of half-life. For poor Sebastian, who could not even bring himself to admit he was gay, but refused to label how he felt about Tanner and define who he really was in terms of his sexuality, he lived a full on lie before his church and parents, but not before his god to whom he prayed and felt acceptance from. In the end, breaking away from those lies would both set them free and nearly destroy their fragile hearts.
Autoboyography is more than just a love story, but also an exploration of what it means to break free of the burden of hiding who you are and how you feel. It is a passionate plea for just being allowed to live your life in truth—despite how hurtful that may be to those who love you. It is strong, painful, liberating, and realistic to a fault. I highly recommend this novel to you—don’t let the Young Adult title prevent you from delving into this gorgeous journey of love and redemption.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for Diverse Books Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win one of our amazing diverse books prize packs. Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by Dreamspinner Press (a Kindle Fire filled with Dreamspun Desires/Beyond books, plus a 3-month subscription!). You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on Diverse Books Week here, including a list of all the books in this week’s prize.