Wren Martin is a senior at Rapture High in a coastal Florida panhandle town. He’s stagnated since the death of his mother two years ago, eschewing friendships and planning for his future because he’s afraid to be disappointed. Wren wants to help the underdogs in the world, because he considers himself an underdog, of sorts, as an asexual teen boy. While he would like to have a relationship, Wren avoids even the possibility of intimacy, sure no one could truly want him if sex isn’t on the table. Which is why he’s extra motivated, as the newly installed student council president (following the removal of the previous president and VP for indelicate reasons), to cancel the school’s lauded Valentine’s Day Dance.
Unfortunately, Wren’s plot to end the dance and use the funds it would have soaked up to make much-needed repairs to the school stage gets derailed by his nemesis, Leo Reyes. Leo, Wren often notes, is perfect in most every way–which is why Wren despises him. He’d hoped Leo would leave student council to assist the Robotics team gain yet another huge championship. But, no. Instead, Leo’s proposing to get a new social app, Buddy, to help sponsor the dance. Buddy anonymously connects people in local circles, optimally for friendship, though users mostly turn it into a matchmaking app. Naturally, Wren hates it because he’s not looking for a sexual partner. The bargain on a Buddy-Dance sponsorship should be a win-win: student council helps the school, and the dance still happens. Well, Wren’s still frustrated, especially so when he figures out that all the activities of student council–Homecoming, Halloween, Winter Fest, Dance planning–mean that he’s working with Leo a lot. It’s awfully hard for Wren to maintain his animosity toward Leo with his first-hand experience of Leo’s sweetness, compassion, and imperfections.
Meanwhile, Wren clandestinely downloads Buddy and signs up, convinced it will fail to match him with a reasonable online friend. He’s startled to connect with a user he dubs “Buddy Boy” with whom he can be a more vulnerable version of himself. Buddy Boy likes Wren’s pithy banter, much to Wren’s surprise. It’s wild, actually, and Wren has to fight to keep his bestie from discovering how deeply he caved into the app.
As the school year progresses, Wren isn’t sure if he’s falling for Buddy Boy or Leo–and there are ramifications to both. Does he want to start living his life again, and risk rejection? The Valentine’s Day Dance is coming, and Wren’s maybe going to ask one of these people to be his date. Even if he has an apoplexy with all his worrying.
I really loved Wren. He’s deliciously prickly, and absolutely a self-righteous jerk with a heart of gooey marshmallows. Having survived the loss of his mom, Wren’s also emotionally damaged, and he’s artfully written as a super sympathetic kid lacking self-confidence. I wanted so much to give Wren a hug, even though I knew he wouldn’t really appreciate that kind of bodily contact. And Leo! That boy has it all, and is still on the precipice of sorrow. I loved how Wren saw Leo’s need and was an actual friend to him in his darkest hours.
The story is 100% YA, with a dash of romantic intent, and I honestly adored the whole journey – even when I could see from the start how the ending would play out. I kept waiting for the big reveal(s). The author does an awesome job of pacing and scattering the breadcrumbs, so I had the space to ponder and pine alongside Wren. There are some plot points that gave me pause, like the stage situation, because I teach high school and these plain-out exaggerations seemed to stretch the definition of “literary license,” yet I loved Wren so hard and clamored for his happiness. This story is sweet and tender and funny–everything I look for in a YA read. Definitely recommend for fans of queer YA literature.