Rating: 4.5 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

Wade Westmore is a high school senior who can’t believe his spring semester is becoming a dumpster fire. His boyfriend broke up with him for being show-boaty and self-involved, and some of Wade’s besties aren’t hanging with him over the ordeal. His college prospects are not meeting his expectations. And now, his coveted role as Henry Higgins in the spring musical of My Fair Lady has been filled–by his ex. Wade, perennial leading man on the stage, is now a supporting character. And, it sucks.

Elijah Brady is a sophomore at the same private prep school as Wade, and he’s probably not even a wallflower. Elijah might be the wall that wallflowers rest against. He has crippling social anxiety and his one sort-of friend stopped talking to him once Elijah came out to him. Elijah joins the tech crew in attempt to meet people–and prove to his eager parents that he’s got something, anything, that resembles a sphere of acquaintances.

A chance meeting in the prop room connects Wade and Elijah when they’re at their most vulnerable, and prompts a desperate Elijah to ask Wade for help changing his image so he can make friends. Wade decides helping Elijah to gain self-confidence could be seen as a selfless act, something that could even win his ex back, because prom is right around the corner. But, only if he sells this as being Elijah’s friend. And, the first step of this journey involves creating Elijah’s alter ego, Brady, who’s bold enough to do all the things Elijah’s been too anxiety-stricken to attempt.

This a sweet retelling of My Fair Lady, with gay teen boys who enter into a bargain expecting certain social outcomes and end up forming an unexpected bond. As a person who adores the play, I really enjoyed this updated young adult romance. Wade isn’t a bad guy; he’s a little naive about how to be a good partner, but he genuinely regrets the Valentine’s Day debacle that caused his break up. He’s felt off-kilter ever since and not getting the lead role has further chastened him. Wade’s college acceptances are slow and unsatisfactory, and he’s really struggling with disconnect between the out-of-his-control reality of life, in contrast to the awesomeness he’d imagined. Helping Elijah become “Brady” and make friends is a mission that affords Wade control, as well as an avenue for possible reconciliation with his ex. The thing is, the more time he spends with Elijah, the more Wade sees how cute he is–and how much fun they actually have together. As his other relationships get more strained, Wade truly values the friendship he’s built with Elijah, even as other boys begin to notice the upwardly mobile Brady.

Elijah wants a true friendship. Wade’s coaching really does help Elijah build confidence that allows him to connect with other people, even cute boys. While some boys are clearly interested in more than friendship, he’s kinda hung up on Wade.

The ending was really interesting and had some twists I didn’t expect. Wade’s growth was really central to the story, and he had a bummer of a senior spring, let me tell you. But, he also got his priorities realigned in a way that helped him feel better about his own self, and I valued that. He’d felt like an outsider in his family at the beginning, but by the end he basked in the glow of genuine acceptance he hadn’t grasped before. (No homophobia, just Wade having internalized feelings of inadequacy that were unfounded.) His friendships felt true, but they were still predicated on Wade’s overinflated ideas, and the reckoning was healthy, if hard in the moment.

Elijah was a typical awkward boy who blossomed with some true friendship. He didn’t forget about his values, or make poor choices to ascribe to some arcane peer code. I liked that he was so honest, and that he and Wade developed a real connection. Their romance wasn’t easy, and that was cool, too. The book has a solid heart, and strong messages about loving one’s self, being okay with vulnerability, and living an authentic life in the face of social media and 24 hour “news.” For readers who like queer YA rom-coms, this book should absolutely satisfy.