Rating: 4.25 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

Gael is a high school student in a Nashville suburb. He lives with his mother, a woman with severe depression, and he has virtually no contact with his father, who moved out of state after the divorce. His father and mother were high school sweethearts, but as her depression worsened, his dad began cheating and Gael got caught in the middle, while also struggling with his own gender dysphoria. It’s now senior year and Gael has few friends, and even fewer plans for the future. He struggles with anxiety over his acceptance and presentation, as well as the pressure of looking after his suicidal mother. Gael tries to keep a low profile in general, because people just hurt each other, and he doesn’t have the emotional bandwidth to invest in friends he’ll probably lose.

Gael’s one true friend, Nicole, was a neighbor before Gael’s home life imploded. Gael watched Nicole transition, which helped him to recognize his own dysphoria, and they have remained friends even though she’s now in college. Nicole helps run PLUS, an LGBTQIA+ support group, and has continually invited Gael to attend. When he finally does, Gael meets Declan, a boy from his school with whom he has some classes. Gael has been too shy to speak with Declan, but Declan is bright, outgoing, and attractive. Gael can’t help but respond to Declan’s overtures, not that Gael thinks much about people’s attractiveness. He also can’t imagine anyone finding him attractive, or suitable as a partner in any case. So, Gael’s a little startled by the notion that Declan wants to be a friend, or have conversations, or…more.

This story isn’t a typical YA romance in that the main character doesn’t consider himself to be worthy of a romantic relationship. He’s been too busy adjusting to all the dramatic changes in his life to even consider the possibility of romance. But, Declan hasn’t had the same struggles, and while it hasn’t been easy for him to find a good and loving partner, he’s supremely hopeful for that to happen. And, maybe Gael will be able to accept Declan’s interest for the genuine affection Gael’s been lacking most of his adolescence.

I really enjoyed this book, and found it to be a bittersweet intersection of many traumas for the main character. Gael is a solid narrator, who doesn’t see himself as a protagonist. He’s exhausted by the struggles of just being him, and can barely see past tomorrow to plan for his future. Add to this that his mother is worsening and his absentee father wants to reconnect–against Gael’s wishes. He’s already been destroyed by his dad’s abandonment once, a second time would end their family forever. Unfortunately, Gael’s a minor and his father’s parental rights don’t stop because of Gael’s grief and fears. Gael’s in the worst spot possible for maintaining normalcy, and it’s through Declan, and the extended friendships he brings, that we see any bright side for Gael going forward.

There are a lot of very tenuous moments where Gael must overcome his instinctual silence to ask for the help he really needs. And, throughout this time, he’s also navigating first experiences of physical affection and potential romantic dating. It’s overwhelming and terrifying and awkwardly wonderful. I loved this collection of characters and their struggles, which help Gael recognize his own needs. Nicole is a fabulous friend and helper to Gael, along with Declan. As a person who works with teens on the daily, these characters read like real people with real issues. It’s not a breezy story, and takes some time to experience in full. Do not expect a fast-paced, social-media driven, TikTok-choreographed story. It’s quiet and patient, and allows depth of character to simmer and develop. This story is highly recommend for questioning teens, and people who like realistic queer YA stories.

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