Rating: 4 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

One moment, Ted is basking in the perfect Sunday morning and feeling like the luckiest man alive. The next, he’s being unceremoniously and callously dumped by his husband of almost twenty years and left shattered. Once it becomes clear Giles has moved on, Ted confronts the fact that he’s allowed himself to fade away and be content to live in the shadows of other people’s dreams. Groomed to take over the family’s ice cream business and uphold his parents’ “family first” motto, Ted’s never questioned why his dreams and needs are the only ones that have been stifled. Resolved to start living for himself, he decides to do the one thing he’s wanted most since childhood—become a drag queen. With his best friend Denise cheering him on and encouragement from sassy elder gay, Stanley, Ted starts unburying himself.

Oskar fled Poland to live more safely as a gay man, but ten years in the UK cannot erase a lifetime steeped in virulent homophobia and inculcated self-disgust. He’s so fearful, it keeps him closed off from even casual friendship as the specter of ‘will they see’ looms large in his mind. However, he’s tired of being alone and determined to overcome his apprehension. Meeting Ted and feeling an attraction makes Oskar equally exhilarated and petrified to date. Though both men promise to go slow, they quickly tumble into love. However, Ted’s pursuit to be a drag queen is tenuous, and drag amplifies Oskar’s antipathy towards femininity and visibility as a gay man. When the past comes calling for both men, their doubts and unhealed wounds are provoked. Will they lock themselves away again or reach for a fearless future?

Becoming Ted is a charming story about reclamation of self, embracing who you are, and living well in your skin. For Denise, it’s overcoming past trauma and the fear of loving again. For Oskar, it’s uncoupling from decades of the shame and terror pounded into him. And for Ted, it’s removing the chains Giles’ putdowns and his parents’ wants wrapped around his psyche and learning to own his dream. I was hooked from the beginning. The opening made me so curious to discover how someone so in love with being a doormat ends up on a stage to perform, and I enjoyed everyone’s journeys.

Ted learned early on that his would be a life of maintaining the status quo. As a child, his parents saw glimpses of the queen Ted is destined to be and discouraged him, especially his father. His only future is the family business and only certain behaviors are acceptable. His gratefulness for their acceptance of his sexuality locked him into a mindset of perpetual gratitude, no matter the personal cost. As he got older and buried any dreams that weren’t his parents’ or Giles’, Ted became smaller and smaller — someone used to and “happy” with being a shadow in other people’s spotlight. Rediscovering and embracing his love of drag gives him the confidence to finally begin putting his needs first.

Oskar too was indoctrinated into conformity and hiding. His father was caught cheating with another man, and the hatred and bile hurled at him by the town and his family scarred Oskar deeply. His mother became a religious zealot who preached of the depravity and perversion of queerness, and Oskar internalized that. Seeing gay men being harassed and beaten reinforced the message that he is wrong. While being in the UK provides freedom from his toxic home-life and environment, Oskar isn’t free emotionally. While he has a satisfying arc and Ted is the eponymous MC, I do wish more time had been spent unpacking Oskar’s trauma given how many flashbacks there are to unpack Ted’s. Additionally, while the author does a good job not dedicating too much of the story to Ted’s depression, the three-month timeline that begins with Ted not being sure he’d survive without Giles to falling in love is slightly truncated. I liked both MCs and the relationship works for the characters, but fell flat for me. They have a couple on-page dates that are sweet and awkward (giving perfect getting together vibes), but them being in love is a stretch.

Ted’s friendship with Denise and connection with Stanley are more convincing relationships. Denise is Ted’s cheerleader and fiercest champion, though she can be a bit overzealous with her need to support Ted. I can’t help but question if the depth of her friendship doesn’t stem from guilt about the massive secret she’s keeping. Stanley becomes a fast friend and helps remind Ted of what it means to live a full life. Their affection and belief bolster Ted whenever he falters.

Overall, the writing is good. It is simplistic and tends to spell everything out multiple times, which slows the pace; several of the flashbacks of Giles and Ted’s parents reshaping him could have been cut. Also, the dialogue is stiff at times, sometimes made more noticeable by the third-person POV. A character saying “how does that make you feel” screams therapy session, not conversation with a friend. The dialogue tags could also be a bit much; “bleating” and “braying” do paint a picture, but are more jarring than effective.

The element that bothered me most is the iffy rationales of some plot points; conclusions that conflict with what is built by the narrative is a major pet peeve. There is a subplot dealing with Ted receiving ominous letters that is poorly done and annoying. The reasoning behind sending them is already shaky, but how it was carried out makes the explanation ridiculous and almost mean given the amount of turmoil and distress they cause. Similarly, Ted’s parents’ motivations are ill thought-out given the context. The thought of Ted leaving for a more glamorous life is so devastating they suppress his light under family loyalty and tradition, yet let their youngest go be an international model??? The context sure makes it seem like it was ok for her light to shine since she was performing appropriate gender norms. To me, it’s disingenuous and contributes to the ending being almost too kumbaya. While it was rewarding to see Ted shine and get closure in so many ways, the emotional conclusion is so pat, it feels rushed and somewhat unearned.

That being said, I enjoyed Oskar and Ted’s journeys of celebration and truth, and Becoming Ted’s messages of self-acceptance, friendship, and love are heartwarming.