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TAKE ME TO YOUR NERDY LEADER BY HAILEY GONZALES
This book popped up on my Instagram, and immediately, I knew I had to read it for this blog--on Instagram, this book was described to have an aromantic main character, a good found family trope, to be about friendship and stuff. Perfect for what I wanted to add to my queer-lit blog, because aromanticism isn't really talked about a lot.
I thought that was a review--I get tons of shit on books on my Instagram, but that was actually a post made by halleygonzalesbooks, which is, you guessed it, Hailey Gonzales' Instagram account. The whole time I thought this was like, some book nerd talking about a book they read, but it was actually a totally different type of book nerd talking about a book they wrote!
This has no bearing on the review, really, I just thought it was funny.
The story starts off with Paige Solano--she's at a brand new school, she knows nobody in town but her doting mother, and she is absolutely terrified. Being a teenager is rough! Despite that, she's determined to make this move work in her favor--she's gonna put herself out there! She makes herself a to-do list: she's gonna make real friends, she's gonna share her interest in art and anime, she's gonna be her true self.
And also, she's gonna lose her virginity. That too.
Paige is aromantic, and she spent years looking at romance novels thinking, Sounds fake, but okay, which is super common for aro and or ace people--honestly, something like looking into the media and assuming that either it's actively lying to you, or there's something wrong with you for not feeling that thing the media insists you should is a super common queer thing(1), and it amuses me, honestly. Paige found the term online and realized that that term fit her--unfortunately, she is not asexual, and it's not that liking sex or not liking sex is a bad thing, it just means that the way of fulfilling that need she has is gonna be a little difficult, because she doesn't want to be in anything romantic, and once she's too close to someone, she will lose all attraction to them, no matter how cute they are. (I imagine this would also be difficult to explain to her mother, because parents don't usually want to hear about your sex life, and it'll be more than a little complicated to explain that she doesn't want romance, and does want sex, so she might flirt with someone, but don't expect to see her in a relationship. Parents are hard, man.)
She is terrified on her first day--the teacher's a bit behind, so she's standing there awkwardly, waiting to get a seat. She doesn't know anyone, so she doesn't have anyone to talk to. It's just her in class.
She gets home to her mother--her father's dead, and has been for awhile, but she's pretty close with her mother. She had announced their move out of nowhere, from Greenville to Bowden, but Paige doesn't hold it against her or anything. She was actually glad to move--and her mother had been worried, because that's a weird reaction from a teenager, to the point where Paige theorizes her mother is assuming she's leaving behind a gang or something. The two of them go out to eat at a local family diner--their waiter is a teen about Paige's age, and he's super cute. His name is Shawn--he goes to Paige's high school, and when Paige's mom (I genuinely have no idea what her name is, I don't think it's ever mentioned, so I will be calling her PM from henceforth) asks if he goes to the local high school, he offers to show Paige around, and points to his group of friends in another booth. She can sit with them at lunch tomorrow!
They exchange numbers and Shawn admits that he was worried he creeped her out--these texts show that Paige has a tendency to start texts, rethink them, and delete them a couple times before she sends one. I'll admit, at first, they were kinda annoying because they never change the real content of these messages, it's just how it's said, but it's actually super accurate for someone with anxiety--Paige can be pretty friendly, and perfectly charming, but she just doesn't quite have the confidence to actually go through with it, and it sucks. I was only annoyed because that's exactly what I do!
Paige sends one text, asking if he should be working in a joking manner, and then immediately feels stupid--she might have offended him, she doesn't know, she doesn't get a response. She goes to her family's pool and promises herself that she really is gonna be different this year. She likes the water--it calms her. (I just want to point out that where I lived, the teenagers with the pools were always the coolest, but it was also a serious sign of wealth. As is owning your house and being able to move and stuff.)
The next day at school, Shawn approaches her and they compare schedules--they share first and third period together, and their lockers aren't far from each other. Realistically, teenagers don't bother with the lockers and keep just about everything in their backpacks--as a high schooler, I never went looking for my locker, I genuinely had no idea where it even was, but it's a staple in TV shows and such, so. She meets Maia in a class before lunch--she's a pretty Mexican girl who compliments Paige's shirt (a Harry Potter tee, which gives her points in Paige's mind) and introduces herself, but she also happens to be friends with Shawn.
So, when Shawn invites her to eat lunch with his friends, as promised, she's there. There's also another white guy--Jay--who offers Paige some of his Skittles, because the pizza in the cafeteria is inedible. Maia explains that they met in the class before and complimented her shirt, and there's some light-hearted banter about Hogwarts houses. It's obvious everyone at this table is close, and who knows how long they've been friends, and considering Jay's claims that he doesn't share his Skittles with just everyone, it's pretty obvious that Shawn was being nice, asked them if they could invite a new student to eat with them, and they were doing their very best to make sure she didn't feel too awkward with them.
Later the same day, Paige sees a poster for an anime club that meets every Tuesday--and today is Tuesday! Excited, she rushes for the room--and then immediately thinks better. She just can't bring herself to go inside. So she walks home instead.
PM finds her in the pool and comments that she thought Paige would have a little sense when she bought this house--what? It's noted that she rarely calls Paige by her name, it's always just pet names. She looks tired, and she's clearly unhappy--she tells Paige to go shower, and then they'll talk. About what? This behavior is said to be pretty out of character, but it's not really given an explanation.
They go out for dinner, back to the diner--it's mentioned that PM hates fast food corporations, and doesn't want to support them, which is a stance I can respect but is never really elaborated on. It's growing on Paige, and again Shawn stops by their table. He awkwardly asks Paige if him and his friends are bothering her at all--in response, Paige just kind of stammers that she needs friends like them--and this is about when she realizes that, as cute as Shawn is, they really have become friends, and she can't imagine herself having sex with him.
After dinner, her and PM go trekking about the town to explore--they find a library, and in there is where Paige finds Maia at a table, studying. Paige, personally, doesn't need to study all that much to pass, but Maia's being super productive. She can't get anything below an A. You know how it is, she says--it's heavily implied she has some sort of Tigre Mama, but Paige doesn't, and doesn't entirely understand. When she leaves, she leaves with a It was nice meeting you, and then wonders who actually says that--which hurts, because I say that all the time, and I didn't think that was weird. This feels like an example of Gonzales trying to make Paige relatable and awkward, but not really committing to the awkwardness. It was nice meeting you sounds a little formal, but it's not actually something someone will comment on. It's possible this was meant to show more of Paige's anxiety, in that she thinks perfectly normal phrases come out wrong and will get her weird looks, but if Paige is supposed to be awkward, I think she needs to actually say awkward things. Like, go on a far too long tangent about something embarrassing that happened to her once in a library, or awkwardly linger there and make eye contact with Maia for far too long while she wonders how to leave respectfully.
Paige compares her first two days to each other--it's a start, but only a start. She knows she has to join the anime club, and she wants to--it's assumed she will eventually, and she falls asleep thinking about it. When she wakes in the morning, Shawn's texted her, asking if she wants to see Endgame with him and the rest of his friend's at Jay's place--he claims they're all broke as fuck, except Jay, who's super rich, and indeed he is! He's the type with a theatre inside his house. (2)
As the day goes on, it's clear Paige and her friends have similar taste--exact opinions differ, but between comics, and movies, and Marvel, and the repeated bringing up of Harry Potter, it's obvious they're all nerds. Shawn sits next to Paige in her third hour, and tells her the entire time the exact reasons why Captain America is the best superhero, but the writing doesn't divulge the reasons (more on this later!)
Paige goes, she has a good time--and Friday rolls around where she finds herself in front of the anime club again--out of nowhere, another student appears and asks why she doesn't just open it. He's hot--black with black hair, and blue eyes. Paige doesn't even know his name, but he takes that huge step she refuses to take for her and opens the door. Now she has to go in.
The anime club, it turns out, is Shawn, Jay, Maia, and Hikaru. This is the best decision she could make.
Paige is welcomed with open arms, brought into the anime club's group chat and everything--about chapter nine is where she reevaluates the list she made. I think this is the last mention of it, until the very end. She spends the weekend determined, because she's actually getting somewhere--her mother's in the living room, and she's still very obviously stressed about something. Paige can't tell what--so she offers to help. With her job as a teacher? With dinner? Anything she needs--PM hugs her. They're obviously, obviously close--this is one of the things on her list, to talk to her mother.
But this isn't exactly what she had in mind when she considered talking to her mother--there's still this distance between them, a few things that are going unsaid.
Shawn body checks his brother casually in school--Paige, an only child, assumes they hate each other but Shawn exclaims that of course they don't. She recounts it to Maia, horrified and confused, but Maia tells her that she was horrified too--but it's just how they are. In the same conversation, Paige shows off some of her art and Maia encourages her to submit it into a contest. For the majority of this book, Paige is preparing art for the contest, but doesn't submit it for awhile, a result of a mix of self-cnsciousnesss, and her just being really good at procrastinating.
Some time passes, and she gets closer with the gang. Studies with Maia, even though she doesn't need it, invites them over to swim at her house--at some point, Shawn spends the night, and they start talking. After Paige admits her mother's been acting weird, she comes out to him as aromantic.
It's super awkward (coming out always is), but she gets through it, and when she's done, Shawn admits that he's bisexual. His parents know, but he's been too scared ot tell the rest of the crew--when Paige admits that Shawn is the first person she's told, Shawn tells her something he hasn't told anyone else either, mainly that he used to self-harm, a while back. At one point, he nearly died and woke up in the hospital (though it was an accident, he wasn't aiming for suicide). This is why he's always shown to be wearing long-sleeves, he's hiding scars.
Paige eventually admits that she's always wanted to go to a gay bar—Shawn decides he wants to come out to the club as bi, and the best way (or most entertaining, same difference) is by going to a club together.
It's pretty easy to convince the club to go to a bar (though they don't clarify it's a gay bar), but getting proper IDs isn't. Awkwardly, Paige tries to talk to a randomly chosen classmate to see if they can help her, but they outright ignore her because she's so bad at talking—but then the mystery boy who helped her with the anime club overhears. At this point, Paige has discovered his name is Miles, and he's still very cute—he offers to help. His brother knows a guy, and he has an ID of his own. He doesn't mind helping.
So, they get their fake IDs and they drive over to another town not too far away where Shawn shows off the gay bar in front of them and explains that he's bi and this is how he wanted to tell them. If they don't want to go into a gay bar, there's a straight one down the street, but they're all so excited in general, and they don't think any differently of Shawn for it, so they're going to the gay one.
They don't get in. The bouncer chews them out for even attempting and holds onto their IDs, but Shawn begs to be let inside, not to really experience a gay bar, but just to look at it all with his own eyes, just for a few minutes, and reluctantly, the bouncer relents, but holds onto their IDs. They leave not too long after and go to a nearby McDonalds instead, and Paige admits that this is much more fitting for them, plus, it inspires her to draw something for that previously-mentioned art contest.
Not too long after, Miles invites her to a house party, and says she can invite the club too. Maia's quick to agree, citing their failed attempt to get into the bar as her reason. She wants 'her moment' and she didn't get it, but this time, she's gonna get it!
The party is loud, much like every party in every teen-focused story. It's crowded, it's noisy, it's definitely not Paige's scene but, well… she's there anyway! She loses track of Maia pretty easily, but she does find a pool, away from most of the crowd. It calms her down until Miles finds her, and after a brief, but fairly awkward chat, she decides she ought to go find Maia.
Maia's naturally doing shots with some people, and upon seeing her, Paige gets strangely angry.(3) She tries to get Maia to stop—she is very drunk and does not want to, and when she fails to convince her to go outside, she storms off, very bitter about how she's all alone and sober and responsible at this party.
But then a cute guy finds her, and not too long after a conversation, they start making out—this is exactly what Paige does want, in that it has no strings attached, no real romance, but she doesn't want to do it out in public, and when she tries to get him to stop, he takes it for a straight rejection, calls her a bitch, and leaves. (4) Not too long after, Miles finds her again and is a little frosty to have caught her making out with Caleb—the boy—because he's a dick (which really furthers my take on note 4, but I digress), and he didn't think Paige was the type to do that. Paige explains that that is what she wants, and mentions she's aromantic—to which Miles responds by asking if she can be his FWB (which stands for "friend with benefits," but he says "FWB", and this is what Paige wants, what she's been thinking about, so she agrees.
And then Maia comes stumbling out the house with a cup. She's been crying, but she's enraged and she's taking it all out on Paige—resentment over how she doesn't need to study and how easy she has it pours out like how alcohol has been pouring out of it's bottles into her red solo cup, and when Paige keeps trying to help her, she snaps and shoves her away—and the momentum throws Maia into the pool.
...Somehow? She's still drunk, but now she's wet and made a total ass out of herself, and Paige is still determined to help her, even when she tries to insist on walking home so she doesn't have to be around Paige, but Miles helps Paige bring her back to her house for an impromptu sleepover, just so Maia's parents don't know she's been drinking.
In the morning, Maia's incredibly hungover—naturally. PM's already left, so they both escape any lectures or judgement. Any attempt to talk about the night before is quickly shut down with vengeance and Maia storms off, but no sooner than she has, Miles texts her to meet up for breakfast so they can talk about the newest development in their platonic, yet progressively sexual, relationship—over some pancakes, they get into the nitty gritty details about the adult activities they want to do, and the discussion of birth control has her feeling more like an adult than the topic of sex.
The elementary school PM works at has a sort of festival that Paige decides to help with, and she employs Jay to help her—in club, she gets into a conversation with Shawn about anime (shocker), but specifically Leaf's Epic Adventure and Shawn asks why Paige likes it so much. It's a lot to get into, but Paige explains that she liked the emotional aspect of it, the main character's grappling with insecurity and loneliness, and when she watched it three years before that conversation, alone and anxious, she latched onto it. Shawn's never got that feeling from an anime, he admits when asked, but he remembers a book he absolutely adored, showing that this is a pretty common feeling, and yet another one to bond the two of them.
Jay helps with the festival and the two of them bond over their similar relationships with their mothers, especially once Paige realizes that she doesn't talk a ton to Jay outside of the club and she needs to work on that, even comparing it to her friendship with Hikaru—but with Jay's mom running the rec center and testing out all the games on him to make sure they're fun, and Paige having known every possible ice breaker for a class when she was a fourth grader, they clearly have a lot in common.
The club does come up—Paige says that in her last school, people were bullied a lot for liking anime, and Jay admits he was kinda worried about that, but then when Shawn started trying to get people to join, he thought it'd be so cool to be a part of it, especially with how little Shawn seemed to care about anyone else's opinion of him liking anime.
While the two of them work the Twister booth, a young child runs up to the booth and quickly following behind him is Hikaru, there to accompany his younger brother Ren and offering a look at Hikaru's much more gentle side—while he's always been pretty calm in the club, he's very quiet and reserved, and this isn't so much of an opposition to his image, but more depth to him—and while Hikaru could come across as shy or at least asocial, Ren is very energetic and excited, which would make you think his older brother might struggle to keep up with him—but he doesn't.
Not too long after, Paige is doing some grocery shopping for her mother when she runs into the two of them again, and because their home's a bit far away, she offers to drive them back.
Hikaru is very obviously embarrassed but thanks her—and then his mother comes out and insists Paige stays for dinner, and her attempts to leave do absolutely nothing. Paige even offers to leave, privately with Hikaru, but Hikaru insists it's okay, and her presence makes his mother happy—she's encouraged to come again and bring her mother, since she's friends with Hikaru and since Ren loves her mother so much.
That Monday, Maia speaks to her to apologize, and Paige quickly accepts it. They barely talk about it and they make plans the next day to get some ice cream—it can't be that day, because she's gunning for Miles to go talk sex to. They go out to get some lunch and eventually, Paige asks if his parents are home—they're not, they're out of town.
So, an episode of Fullmetal Alchemist passes and they talk about their hobbies. Miles is actually a huge history nerd and plans on being a professor when he's older. His parents aren't around a lot. They both agree to look into STD-testing at Planned Parenthood, just in case they inherited anything nasty they should know about.
Paige makes plans with the rest of the club regarding Saranto Con and considers cosplaying with them—they go every year, and since she's a part of the club now, she should be participating in the activities, and that's not mentioning that one of the voice actors that are gonna be there is Mitch Clearwater, who voices Leaf, meaning she has to go.
On a Tuesday, she goes to Maia's house to hang out—her bedroom is decorated in Harry Potter, and while Paige tries to change the subject, Maia starts talking about the party. Her anger was born out of stress—there's a lot of pressure on her to do good in school, to get a good job and get her family out of the house. They're clearly lower-income, and Maia loves them dearly—specifically, she's mad about the racism her father faces, in being told that he doesn't belong, and Paige sympathizes with her. She's already mostly forgiven her, but this is them actually hashing out their issues.
Paige agrees to a double date with Shawn so she can meet his new boyfriend, who he's a little shy about. Now, her and Miles aren't dating (which Shawn knows) but it's a good chance to hang out, she wants to be friendly with Miles, and she really wants to meet Shawn's new boyfriend—the double date doesn't have a ton of detail. What gets the most detail is her mother not taking Paige's words at face value and assuming she's in denial about her feelings towards Miles, and after the date when her and Shawn hang out at her place, her mother asks for details from him, and insists that she knows, clueing Shawn in on the fact that she isn't out to her.
Paige resolves to come out to her soon—and the very next chapter, she's hyping herself up for it while her mother makes dinner. She fails to say it over dinner, and it's not until later when they're watching TV, she tries to choke it out.
It's incredibly awkward. I'm convinced coming out always is—always. She doesn't think her mom completely understands, but she elaborates that she doesn't want to get married—not because she can't get a man, not because she's waiting for later in life when it is something she wants, but she doesn't ever want to get married. She encourages her to look up the word 'aromantic'—but she said it. That's all that really matters and all she really can do.
The subject of the move comes up—Paige points out that PM was very upset when they moved, that she doesn't know why they moved, and PM admits that this is just the farthest they've ever been from their old house. They moved because she thought the distance would help with her still present grief, after five years, but that moving away hurt—so, she doesn't have a right to that pain, and she doesn't want to talk about it. It changes something in their relationship—Paige admits that she misses him too, she just tends to keep it down, and her mother asks when she got so grown up.
Later, Shawn asks her about the art competition and if she's submitted it—she admits that she has and shows the picture to him, but the reader still doesn't know what she submitted.
And then she has sex with Miles—it's super awkward, pretty brief, but she does genuinely enjoy herself, because it's exactly what she wanted. A good friend she could have no-strings-attached sex with.
Eventually, she goes on a three-day road trip with the anime club—in the hotel room, the anime club gets wasted and despite Paige's previous disgust about getting drunk, she does indeed get wasted with the rest of them, deciding that she wants to, at least once, and she doesn't feel too drunk anyway.
While drunk, she talks about how she lost her virginity and then admits she doesn't want a boyfriend—the initial reaction is she did it with a woman, but she explains that she did it with a dick, and then elaborates that she's aromantic. In the morning, she has to give a bit more context, but she's ripped off the bandaid. She's officially out to everyone she cares about.
Things are okay between her and Maia. Hikaru and Jay like her. Shawn is officially her best friend, is in a happy relationship she gets the best-friend-details about, and she's gone from socially-anxious-Paige, to… Paige. Confident-Paige. Out-and-proud-Paige. Aromantic-artist-Paige. Paige Solano.
Take Me To Your Nerdy Leader starts off the way most contemporary novels in high school settings start—Paige Solano is anxious, painfully shy, and is doing almost everything in her power to escape notice (and therefore ridiculement) from her peers. This isn't helped by the fact that it's her first day at a new school, but Paige is desperate to make some real friends and in order to do so, she knows she needs to put herself out there, as terrifying as it's gonna be, so she makes herself a to-do list, even if the chances of her following it are slim: make friends, share her interests in art and anime, be her true self (and also, yeah, lose her virginity).
Most of these coming-of-age novels have the same types of main characters: nerdy, nervous, and yet, still neurotypical. A lot—not all, but a lot—of storytellers tend to never stray from the status quo. It's a white teenager with the same nerdy interests and a few mentions of some type of mild social anxiety that they have to overcome to grow as a person. Enter friends, beating a rival, sometimes a makeover, and always some type of party—at some point, self-esteem occurs.
Paige is—and by extension the story—pretty much the same as that typical main character except for a handful of things that really do make her stand out. She's more heavy-set, allowing a few mentions of how this affects her self-esteem, and this isn't played for laughs. She's mixed, with her mother being white and her late-father being Mexican, and on top of all this, she's aromantic. This is the main thing, of course, that brought me to this book and probably one of the best things about this novel is how it tackles having an identity nobody seems to truly understand.
Paige, other than these traits, isn't all that memorable, but it's a good, modern depiction of the American teenager, at least on a surface level. She's genuinely smart, though she could be perceived as slightly lazy in that she's a teenager and she doesn't study as much as she should but still does fine in school; she craves acceptance from her peers; she has nerdy interests that can be easily dismissed as juvenile with her love of art and anime; she is in the process of growing up and putting herself out there. This is one of the best portrayals of a teenager I've seen in a long while—Paige is smart, but lacks the motivation to study if she can't truly justify it to herself, since her grades don't really need it, she likes food and seems to be able to make enough peace with her body that her weight doesn't affect her eating habits, she loves her mother regardless of their imperfect relationship.
The whole book, though, has this grounded feeling that greatly hinders Paige's character—each conversation feels like it's got the potential for great drama, but ultimately falls flat. Paige craves friends and company, but she gets it all so quickly that it never feels like her relationships truly develop—they just sorta happen. Her friends' personalities largely blend together.
They never progress much past the basics—one's bi and used to struggle with his mental health and self-harming tendencies, and one's rich and likes his mom, and one's under a lot of pressure to succeed in school and provide for her family, and one's quiet and keeps to himself. Besides Maia, we don't learn a lot about any character's home life because even dinner at Hikaru's house is written briefly, without much detail or room for development. Besides Hikaru's brother Ren, Paige never really interacts with anyone else's siblings.
Despite the title's focus on being nerdy, none of the characters really strike me as all that nerdy—yes, there's mentions of fanfiction and fan art, there's a few title-dropped anime's, they go to a convention. Like, Paige is a nerd, but she could easily pass as a very average teenager if the book didn't tell us that she was so nerdy. It's a case of telling instead of showing—we're told they're all nerds, instead of somebody making a few crackpot theories about a TV show they're into, or any shipping wars, critiques on any specific media that they, as a fan, might have been disappointed in. Now that's nerdy—but we don't catch anyone with AO3 open on their phone, or trying to work out a plot point in the fanfic they're writing, or talking about how Endgame did Natasha dirty. I think this could have further fleshed out Paige's interactions with her friends, and show just why they're all friends in all the craziness of the nerds.
I can't exactly fault Paige for her anxiety around her interests—originally, I wanted to say something like, anime is so goddamn popular these days, they can't seriously be worried about being bullied, right? I don't think these nerdy things are what get you targeted for bullying, because it's really not all that weird until you make it weird—it's just that having any interest in anything can get you pegged as weird, and when you're trying to get a feel of who and what you are, being yourself and facing that sort of judgement is terrifying, and that's ignoring the fact that kids are cruel and will bully you for anything, just, in my experiences, not specifically anime. I, however, can and will fault Paige for being flat as a character. She has hopes, she has fears, but she doesn't really have flaws—she doesn't stumble over her words much, or make any jokes that don't land, or do anything that could really label her as awkward—that could be that she just forms a friend group inordinately fast who she can be herself around, but between passing her classes without studying, and never fighting with her mother, and never getting into trouble, and making friends so easily—it's hard to truly root for Paige.
It's easy to believe she's gotten lucky—some people are super nice and will bring you into their friend groups, and what might've once been something done out of pity can become something real, you can form an actual bond, and I think it's just that we were told instead of shown all these things, that we don't get to see Paige develop into the brave and beautiful teenager she's supposed to be at the end. To a point, I also believe that Gonzale's own love for her novel might have gotten in her own way—when I was first starting out as a writer, it was hard to give my main characters actual flaws, because I loved them so much, I wanted the reader to love them. I didn't want to give them anything sufficiently unlovable—in that way, Paige is never shown doing anything wrong, because we as the reader need to love her, to root for her, and Gonzales loves her so much, why would she want to do anything that could turn the reader against her?
All these reasons is specifically why Maia especially falls flat. She's supposed to be a big deal because she's Paige's first real "girl friend", but they're plot-mandated friendship failure feels incredibly forced, and I would say that's because while we get a fairly early mention of Maia's stress when it comes to studying, we don't see a lot of it throughout the book, it's only what Maia says—and what Maia says has some real potential for a good, well-rounded character, and her even confessing to Paige that she needs to study so hard because her family's counting on her could be a sign of her stress—but then… it gets no other mention.
If we really wanted to see Maia as the woefully stressed, overwhelmed teenager who's future is looming ahead of her, who's buckling under her pressure, who's desperate to feel like a stupid teenager when she has to be so mature and prepare for a long, grueling career she doesn't sound all that into for anything other than success and money—then, we should have seen signs of it before she told Paige. Maybe she has bags under her eyes because she was up all night studying. Maybe she makes a mention of a camp she has to go to over a school break to get ready for her future career and she doesn't sound enthusiastic about it at all. Maybe she falls asleep in class and has to ask Paige for some notes, or she spends lunches napping to avoid falling asleep in class. Maybe she comes to school in sweatpants and barefaced because she's more focused on her schoolwork than her appearance and it takes too much time. Maybe she skips out on a whole lot of club things because she's so busy studying. Maybe when Paige came over for dinner with her family, one of her parents should've asked her how studying was going, how her grades were looking, reinforce the idea that they—either intentionally or unintentionally—are putting pressure on top of her that she can't handle. (5) The only real buildup we have to her blow-up at the party is her saying that she didn't get to have "her moment" at the club—but that's not enough on it's own, it could've meant anything.
So, instead, we have her argument with Paige. She's frustrated because Paige can do so well without studying, and Paige keeps trying to help her—like, that's her only flaw is that she's too helpful, and too nice, and she cares so much about Maia that she's helping her even when it's unwanted, and that's not even talking about how absurd it is that Maia somehow manages to get enough momentum in shoving Paige away from her that she throws herself into the pool. I think Gonzales was just going for this super dramatic moment—like something you'd see in a teenage-drama—and she couldn't quite get a suitable conflict for these two characters, and even then, I think this could have worked with a bit of editing, if maybe Maia confessed during her apology that she knew she was out of line, that she was in the wrong, that she was being stupid and drunk—and since Paige knows she was being stupid and drunk, I don't think it would be that big of a deal, because all Maia really did was swear a couple times and get a little huffy, the biggest problem really seemed to be that Paige kept trying to help her when Maia didn't want it, and it gives off this impression that the conflict between them was born of Paige being too perfect. If a character has a flaw, it has to be presented as a flaw--but Paige's flaws are there to make us feel bad for her and nothing else.
Shawn has all the makings to be his own main character—but we don't even get a ton of time with him. He quickly becomes Paige's best friend—but there's no really shown growth except when they come out to each other. Paige comforts him the best he can over a few insecurities, but it never really gives you the feeling that they're close—likely, because we're only told about these conversations we're having. I think the entirety of Take Me To Your Nerdy Leader could have hit harder if instead of saying, for example, "he tells me in bits and pieces why Captain America is the greatest hero to have ever lived. I had a hard time not laughing at some of his bullet points," the scene could have gone into detail about it, something like:
Mr. Jimenez is talking at the front of the classroom—something about congress, but I'm not really paying attention, because Shawn's a foot away from me. "Look," he says. "The man fights Nazis. How much cooler can you get than that?"
"Shawn, there was a whole war on fighting Nazis." It's not special--we learned it last year, in U.S. History, stumbling through lecture after lecture while the teacher droned on and on about just how many people died on D-Day.
"And we need to fight Nazis—he was the best at it in the Marvel cinematic universe. Icon of a man." I'm not convinced. "He can lift Thor's Hammer, Paige. A weapon of a god only able to be wielded by someone worthy—that's him, Paige. He's worthy of a godly weapon. Honestly, he could be a god. I'd worship him—we could make a church, of a Nazi-fighting, Americana god with a cool-ass shield."
I fight back a chuckle and he leaps on the weakness to prove his point. "I'll make the holy book—you know when we pray to him?"
When I try to choke back my laughter, I end up making several dying noises and the teacher looks up at me, so he quiets back down. For a minute, we're taking notes and listening intently. I glance in his direction, but he doesn't seem to notice—the powerpoint's progressed, I can't figure out what point I'm missing.
I think he's dropped it, but then he leans over and whispers, "Do not kill thy neighbor—unless thy neighbor is Nazis."
It's probably pretty obvious that I don't know a goddamn thing about Captain America, but my point is, that feels more like a moment, and would make the reader more inclined to like Shawn than just the fact that Paige likes Shawn, and that's probably one of the biggest problems in the book. We just… like the characters, because Paige likes them. They have these good concepts, but no ultimate pay-off, build-up—just the concepts. I really feel like Maia and Shawn could been some amazing side-characters, but they just ultimately don't present much as interesting.
First Five Pages:
As brief as the scenes and chapters are in this book, TMTYNL achieves exactly what the first five pages should in two-and-a-half.
It's not much, and I can't say for sure if it would hook a reader who just found it in the store and flipped to the first page and just started reading, but I don't think you could say that for sure on any story—but it gets the most important facts out of the way. We learn the main character's name, that she's at a new school, that she's bad at lists, that she wants friends, and that she's aromantic. As far as a checklist goes, I would say Gonzales' got it down.
So, the main character is a chubby, half-Mexican, aromantic teenage girl being raised by her single mother after the death of her father that's left her without any true ties to her background, like for example the fact that she doesn't speak Spanish, and among other Mexican people—such as a classmate at her old school—isn't acknowledged as one. Her best friend is a bisexual boy with a past of depression and self-harm who founded a club for anime, her girl friend is a Mexican-American girl being raised by poor, working class immigrants and her father may or may not have been said outright to have immigrated, but it was definitely at least implied, who's under pressure to succeed so she can provide for her family. Their friends with a rich boy who does genuinely like them and seems to be spoiled sweet, in that his family's income has no effect on his mother running the town's rec center, his willingness to help Paige and PM with an elementary school festival, and even shares his Skittles about three minutes after meeting Paige because he doesn't think she'll like the school pizza. Then we have a reserved Japanese-American boy who genuinely loves his little brother and who's just been slightly hardened by the struggles of his family's immigration, something that his little brother didn't have to experience, and loves his friends under his quiet demeanor.
This could work—it could work really well, actually; the story takes place in California, and California does have a pretty high population of Mexicans, being that it's close to the border and tons of Mexican citizens in this current day and age are immigrating to America, and historically, California was a pretty big destination for people immigrating through Angel Island, and a lot of those immigrants were from South or Central America, or Asia—specially, I want to say the Asian immigrants were commonly Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Filipino, and specifically in the case of Filipino immigrants, the U.S. has a long, long history of them. (I want to say that there's evidence there was people from the Philippines traveling to the U.S. long before the British colonies were settled, let alone the U.S. was established, but I'm not sure how accurate that is.) Now, Maia's family immigrating relatively recently in the grand-scheme of history (there's no real mentions of immigration, just that her father was told he didn't belong here, which could have easily just been some racist prick telling any POC they find to go back to wherever they came from, even in the context of them being a U.S. citizen, simply because that racist assumes every U.S. citizen would be white as it could have been some MAGA-toting idiot who believes the U.S. needs to be pickier about the immigrants they do let in, and that they need to come here properly, it's not really elaborated.(6)) does make sense, because of all the current discussions about Mexican-American immigration, it's a fairly recent thing. Now, in the context of this history, it would make just as much sense if Hikaru's family had been born and bred U.S. citizens with a Japanese background, but just because it was super common with Angel Island doesn't mean that all Hispanic and Asian immigration to California stopped the moment Angel Island was no more—Hikaru's family could have been like, 'let's move to California because there's a pretty sizable Asian-American population in that area of the U.S.' or also just because they decided they wanted to move to California. It could have been anything--I'm just saying that while I would have rolled my eyes at a cast of white characters, these are a part of the reason why casts should be diverse, at a certain point, it's just realistic.
TMTYNL doesn't have a diversity problem—it has a character problem. Gonzales can very obviously come up with the concepts in her writing, she has everything she needs to give Hikaru, Maia, and Shawn very in-depth backgrounds, it's just that she doesn't put these concepts to use. The problems with the characters aren't that their backgrounds weren't thought out, it's just they're not shown in a compelling way—a colorful cast means nothing if it's only something to pull you in, but not necessarily keep you in.
That said, I feel like Gonzales could have killed two birds with one stone and made Paige and Shawn go to a GSA meeting at their school, and maybe bring the anime club with them. Maybe one of them could even have founded it GSA, too—that wouldn't have just given them a chance to bond and make the reader invested in their relationship, but it would have added another layer to the story in that the two of them could have bonded over their shared queerness while maybe getting into a few more discussions about identity as a teenager, and why they might all need a community. Plus, the basis of Paige's story reads as unmistakably queer to me--like, yes, Paige is only sexually interested in men, but the confusion surrounding her identity for other characters? That's queer. The terror of being yourself when all you want is to be accepted, but true acceptance means people have to know the real you? That's queer. Being brave and exposing who you are to the people you love and need most in the world and just hoping they would understand? That's queer. Not even broaching the subject feels like a missed opportunity. Adding to that, Shawn's relationship with his boyfriend feels super rushed, and then there's Miles.
I like Miles! Miles is cool! But a few things about his character does make me think Gonzales didn't think him through all the way—most importantly, is that he asks Paige to be his FWB. Okay—this is what Paige wants! She even explains herself as aromantic to him, but we never learn anything about what Miles really wants. Is he just a teenage boy looking to explore his own sexuality with someone who he knows won't catch romantic feelings, complicating the situation more than he would like? Does he have a crush on Paige and thinks this is close enough to romance to satisfy him? Is he also aromantic and this is what he wants, just like what Paige wants? Will he end up catching feelings for Paige as a result of their FWB-relationship, and this will add more drama because Paige has established that she doesn't feel romantic feelings, meaning Miles will have to either quietly work out his feelings on his own, or maybe he'll start pressuring Paige for something she doesn't want in the context of romance? Is Paige maybe after a sort of queer-platonic partner in Miles, where it's definitely an intimate relationship, and it seems to be more than friends, but isn't inherently romantic and just hasn't gotten to that discussion with him yet? We don't actually get to know any of this, because the focus is so much on Paige and what she wants, and what she gets, we don't know exactly what the characters like Miles are after, making him yet another missed opportunity.
One of the little things about other people's writing that bothers me is when they confuse a hyphen for an em dash. - vs. —, you see. The hyphen (-) is perfectly used on the back when Gonzales writes "coming-of-age", but she uses it before that in place of an em dash (—, you see them all over in my writing) when she writes, "The real Paige- the nerdy Paige-" and it's not just that on the back cover.
More than that, there's… a lot of errors in her writing. Grammatical and spelling. At one point, head is written as had. Small stuff like that—at a couple points, I actually stopped reading for a minute because I thought I was having a stroke, and I was like, "seriously? But I'm so young!" (You can actually have a stroke at any age, my mom had one after giving birth to me and my twin sister, even children can have them, that's my fun fact of the day.) As it turns out, I was not having a stroke, alone in my dark living room, where surely nobody would find me until morning where it'd be far too late and my loved ones might not even know that I want to donate my organs instead of my ghost watching them buy an overpriced funeral that I'm too dead to admire(7)—that was just the book.
If you look at the title page, you'll see right beneath the author's name, this bolded text that reads Gonzales Publications. And now I know what you're thinking—"Isn't Gonzales the name of the author? Wow, Gonzales is sure a common name." Or maybe it slowly dawned on you that Gonzales was self-published, and first of all? Respect. The guts it takes to get published at all, and the mind-fuck that is self-publishing, I'm genuinely impressed. Being published at all, as I've said on Bellefleur's Written in the Stars, is a big deal, and I don't care how much I do or don't like any book I blog about, being published is nothing to scoff at.
But because it wasn't traditionally published, it didn't go through the usual process traditionally-published-books go through—specifically, the editing process. Gonzales couldn't afford an editor—which like… fair. Those can be expensive.
Some of the problems definitely seem to be more of what I like to call a Stylistic Suck. Paige isn't super good with all the grammar rules, and it's slightly to be expected of a teenager—but there's a fair bit more spelling errors and typos than you'd find in one of those traditionally published books, and because it wasn't traditionally published, it's… pretty obvious Gonzales skipped a few drafts before she decided the novel was finished, and that leads to the one thing that I want you to take away from this blog post. If you stop reading right after it, I want you to at least walk away from your screen knowing this one thing: Take Me To Your Nerdy Leader is not a bad book.
It's not bad—this writing really just shows to me that it's lacking polish. A lot of these problems are super common with, for example, beginner writers—way back in middle school, when I first started writing with the intent to one day publish, these were a lot of problems I ran into. An overwhelming love for my work that… kinda came back to bite me in the ass—I didn't want to edit, because I was so proud of what I wrote, I thought it was perfect. Looking back—my plot was half-assed, the characters were flat, it was overall just… not my best work, and just this book is leagues above little baby Jo(e)'s work. I thank whoever the Hell's in the sky looking out for me that I didn't publish that story, that no one will probably ever read it—for me, that's a good thing. But I would like to say that TMTYNL's too early publication doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing.
These are problems every writer encounters early on in their writing career—I grew past them. Every writer that sticks past it will. A huge part of writing is telling yourself that it's okay when you get these ideas and admitting to yourself you don't have the skill, or the experience, or the right inspiration to make an idea work. You can go back to them. TMTYNL had all the right ideas, and with some hard work, I think Gonzales could've pulled them off—it's a fairly big deal that you can come across so many typos in a story, but it didn't really scare me off of it. This book's flaws doesn't mean she's a bad author, and the very fact that I got my hands on her writing to be able to critique it at all is a big deal, one worthy of praise. Gonzales can only get better from here, and if you like to read anything you can get your hands on like me (I read the labels off of soup cans.), the writing won't scare you off.
If you're a snob and seeing a couple repeated words, or misspelled words, or anything of the sort is gonna give you an aneurism--you're... definitely better off looking elsewhere.
So, under the subject of writing, I go surprisingly in depth about the author, to the point where you might be wondering where I got some of this information I'm talking about, how Gonzales couldn't afford an editor, for example.
Well, that's because I spoke to her, and I would again like to state my mad respect for Hailey Gonzales—I DM'ed her on Instagram, and while most of my questions felt a little more like I was trying to sate my own curiosity, she was very polite and answered them, and I can't thank her enough for her time. According to her, an editor was expensive, so she tried to catch these details on her own, in her own publishing. There's plenty of drawbacks when it comes to self-publishing, but I think the biggest advantage over it is the freedom you get in your story. Gonzales didn't compromise it for anybody, and for a book that's supposed to be about standing out and being fearlessly and unabashedly who you truly are—it's very fitting.
Hailey Gonzales seems to have a special soft spot for contemporary and fantasy stories—but the most recurring theme for all her works would be their aromantic characters. You know how I rant nonstop about how people should be able to look into the media and be able to see someone like them? Well, my aromantic readers, Gonzales has got you covered!
It's a shame that aromanticism is so underrepresented—I'm not sure if I've ever actually read a novel that had a single aro or ace character, let alone as the main character. They're the two identities that tend to go together, in that they're very misunderstood, even in the LGBTQ+ community. This can include people defining them wrong, confusing the two, or just arguing that they don't have a place in the community because some people want to argue that they don't face the same oppression as the rest of the community—and in the way that people like to demonize transfolk as monsters and liars, and they paint all gay men as pedophiles, there's a sad, sad amount of people that assume that if you can't feel love, you're somehow inhuman, and I want to say, right here, right now, that aromantic people can feel love, and it's just that we live in a society where we put so much on weight on romance, we've grown blind to every other type of love.
I will wage my soul on this—Gonzales loves her work. She writes about a girl who loves her friends, and loves her mother, and loves the memory of her father, who loves food, and comes to love herself. The dedication an author has for their work, the dedication it takes to self-publish and advertise your novel on social media—that is love. And it's something I absolutely love to see in a novel, and something that's always done the best by queer authors, I swear to God.
Gonzales' other books include Strange Worlds, a YA urban-fantasy with an aroace main character fighting a villain looking to conquer the multiverse, and Lucian Code, a light-hearted NA novella about a Cupid mentoring another and teaching him about the seven loves. Already, TMTYNL has a sequel, and Strange Worlds has at least two books. If you're looking to support an indie author, I would one-hundred-percent recommend looking into Gonzales' work and giving her the proper support.
On her father's birthday, Paige goes with her mother to visit his grave—they like to give each other alone time during the visits, and while she's there. She talks about her friends, and how much she misses him.
Very soon after, Revolution Recognition comes—it's a public event, Paige shows up in a dress and she hates it, but her friends (even including Miles!) are there. Her mother can't show up until later, since she's working, but she's kinda relieved.
The winners are being announced—some other girl gets third-place. Paige will acknowledge she's good later, when she's not this stressed, because how can she win? But dear God, does she want to, and she's so proud of her work—
Second-place is announced—Paige Solano.
Okay, yeah, we all see it coming, of course Paige is gonna win. I will say that when the main character deserves a victory, it's nice to see Gonzales going the almost more-realistic route of her being more of a runner-up than the winner. It definitely fits Paige's story more that she isn't the best, but that there's hope for the future she wants if she can grab it, that she's at the very least put herself out there and has accomplished something.
The club goes to Saranto Con together—Paige has to sit in the middle because her friends are hazing her (middle seat sucks!), but when they get there, she gets to talk to Leaf's VA, and she gets a photo and everything. At the end of the book, she acknowledges that she did completely forget about her list at the beginning, like she thought she would—but even then, she's achieved everything on it. This is her—the real Paige she so wanted to be, and she couldn't be more satisfied.
A little cheesy, I guess, but the more I look at TMTYNL the more I think that this is a mix of Gonzales' experiences and wish-fulfillment, and I am so fucking for it. I can't put it exactly into words—but for me and my writing, a lot of the interactions between characters are based off my experiences, and not even just an experience, but in moments. The feeling of freedom as a teenager when I'm hanging out with a friend and I'm not expected home for a few hours, the closeness of crying over the same movie with a loved one, sharing a meal in silence knowing you love the person across from you holding their spoon like a toddler with a color crayon—and there isn't anything rare about laying on your back in bed with a friend and swapping secrets, or struggling to get past your own anxiety to join a club, but just like in the book, I think it's such a common thing that people really just wanna be loved. Paige doesn't want the romance or the hand-holding other teenage-centered stories might go for—but she wants the acceptance and the closeness, and isn't that what we all want?
So, I'm reading this and I'm thinking… Gonzales was Paige, at a point. I'm not saying she had a real!Shawn, and real!Maia, and real!Jay, I'm not saying she went through the exact same things Paige did, but I think, at the end of the day, writers write mostly for themselves, and she decided she wanted to write a story about an aro teen making some friends, not purely for her, but for anyone who might also need it.
The ending is simple—a callback to the beginning, and the completion of almost-forgotten goals, and a victory. It's simple—but it fits the story, and the matter of a good ending is simply… does it fit the story? Does it belong? Now, if she decided Iron Man showed up and brutally slaughtered the entire anime club, then I would say this book absolutely sucked—but the ending, in the context of Paige's arc, is perfect.
Things Counting For:
-- Aromantic main character, obviously. Seriously--better than that, this is written by an aromantic author, and if there's one thing I love, it's self-representation. I don't know if I've ever actually seen an aromantic main character in any book I've read, but I know for sure that aromanticism is incredibly underrepresented--and Gonzales didn't let the less-than-satisfactory representation stop her. At the very least, I have to respect her guts.
-- The main character is also chubby! I'm not sure if Paige is necessarily body-positive, because what I got from it was more of a body-neutrality, not unlike August from One Last Stop, but it was all done very tastefully--Paige's feelings on her body don't stop her from eating, and while she's a little self-conscious about it, all her friends don't care. I wouldn't have been against reading a story where the main character loves their plus-size body, or maybe even hates it, so long as it's done realistically, and I feel like a lot of teen-stories try to ridicule any plus-sized characters, or they'll just make them the comedic relief. There really isn't a ton of books with main characters that don't fit traditional beauty standards--I love to see it.
--Okay, just one more of these points and I'll stop talking about the representation in this novel, but it's a very big deal to me that Paige is mixed. Half-Mexican, and half-white--there's a lot of things this novel could've done better, but when she talked about how it felt like there was some sort of Mexican club she wasn't invited into, I felt that. I can count on one hand, even including this work, the amount of books I've read with a Mixed main character.
-- At the very least, there's a lot of parts of this story that strike me as authentically queer, like when Shawn and Paige come out to each other--the way these scenes are written aren't exceptional, but that's the type of coming-out scene that really resonates with readers, and because it's between two queer characters, it feels a lot like they just get this mutual understanding between the two of them that you don't exactly get with a queer character coming out to a straight one.
-- I reached out to Gonzales on Instagram to ask a few questions about this novel, thinking for sure that I was bothering her and was probably being a nuisance, and she was incredibly polite, humble, and nice to talk to. I can't thank her enough for her time--I don't think I'm going to often get a chance to talk to an author about their books, but this one experience was pretty nice, and I'm inclined to think that Gonzales is just a super cool chick working on her craft.
Things Counting Against:
--Harry Potter. It's exhausting how Harry Potter was almost this inexplicably queer thing for so long, that we were all welcomed into Hogwarts with open arms before Just Kidding Rowling was like, "exceptions apply :)" and now the fandom's been split down the middle. For every TERF who will stan Rowling like she's the second coming of Christ, there's a fan that will write the fic and trans the gender of the characters, who would gladly cuss Rowling out to her face if given the chance, and every fanfic is prefaced with a bolded FUCK JK ROWLING, JK ROWLING CAN GO TO HELL. I know nostalgia's one Hell of a drug, and I know that there is ways to love the series without supporting the author--I know just because someone has a pair of glasses tattooed on their bicep and No one should have to live in the closet doesn't mean that they believe in conversion therapy for transpeople, I know that there's plenty of fan-made merchandise, I know that you can buy the books, the movies, the posters secondhand and that the same way I look back on Coraline as the movie I watched on repeat as a kid and know the lines by heart, a lot of people might've had that with HP. I get that--but a lot of trans people will attest to the fact that if they're out walking and they see somebody with a Deathly Hallow t-shirt on, they don't feel safe. There's no way to know what's fanmade or not, we can't look at someone and gauge how transphobic they are, for a lot of us, our initial reaction to anything HP-related is that it goes hand in hand with transphobia, and that's not even touching on the issues in the books before Rowling outed herself as a TERF. This wouldn't have been so much of a big deal if it had been touched on, even a little--I mean, books that were published pre-2016, I kinda get it, but post 2016, like this book... I'm a little suspect. It also shows to me that fandom-culture was another missed opportunity in this novel, because most fans don't just blindly accept every thing about their interest, there's plenty of fans that will analyze every little detail, pick it apart, will tear the creator a new one and still love the thing with all their heart--I very honestly and truly believe that criticism ought to come from a place of love (which is why I started this blog all that time ago), and the fact that we didn't even get so much as a joke from any of the anime club that Endgame was too long, that Marvel's just making cash grabs at this point, that they ruined Captain America as a character by making him go back in time not just to dance with Peggy but to undermine the whole future she had for herself just so he could be a part of it, is... I'm going with a missed opportunity at best, and... a little uncomfortable, at worst. (I will also admit that I'm a little sensitive on the subject of HP, and I'm incredibly suspicious of any mention of it. I'm trying to look past my own bias, and I'm not saying "this! This is what ruined the book for me!", so like... take what I'm saying with a grain of salt, but understand that an author that stands by anything Rowling does is not one I will praise the character of on this blog.)
-- A lot of the slang used is... odd, to say the least. I'll admit, teenage slang can be a little difficult because I don't think Gonzales is a teenage anymore, and I don't know how long it's been since she was in high school, nor do I know how to properly explain the slang for a high schooler. I mean, you know how the dialogue in Life is Strange is a little weird (the use of "cereal" for instance) because it was some grown, British men trying to imitate American high-schoolers? Some instances of misused slang can have their own charm, and bad slang can even flesh out a setting or character--but there was a few examples in TMTYNL that had me cringing. Like, when Paige said the bouncer of the gay club was being such a dad, in that she believed he was stopping them because he was an adult trying to steer a group of unruly children away from an adult setting where they could possibly be at risk--maybe it's just me, but I was like, 'that's what you're gonna say? Alright.'
-- The cover just doesn't go with the story. The cover is pretty simple--it's blue, and it's got a car. That's kinda it. Like, if it was the main character's car, or tons of important events happen in that car, or it was at all symbolic, it could've worked, but that's the type of cover you expect on a story about a road trip, the car has literally nothing to do with the story. I can't say for sure what Gonzales could've gone with instead, but the car just... isn't it. Honestly, I don't even think the title goes with the story that well--with something like Take Me To Your Nerdy Leader, I feel like there'd be more of an emphasis on how alienated the main character might feel because of her interests. Maybe because she has some male-dominated fandoms where all the guys insist she somehow isn't a real fan, can't be that nerdy? Maybe she's like, super into some dating sim, or a harem anime despite being aromantic and every other fan has so much emphasis on romance and stuff that she feels a little out of place? Maybe she just has a ton of friends and family that are super serious and she's over here wanting to be an artist and watch anime, adding to that feeling of being an alien? Maybe it's just her being at a new school where nobody really knows her, but even then, she forms a friend group too quickly for me to really see the relation.
-- ...The typos, the spelling errors, the grammar. ...Yeah.
Despite all of this, I have mad respect for Hailey Gonzales. Like, absolute mad respect. I really did enjoy this book, no matter how many things I'm critical about. So, with that said...
Not because this book is bad. Not because Gonzales' is a bad author. Not because I'm trying to go out of my way to give these books on my blog bad ratings, but mostly... because if you publish a book, it shouldn't have this many typos. Self-published, I understand that there's a few that might slip under her notice, but the sheer amount just reminds me that TMTYNL... really could have used a bit longer in the oven.
I take no pleasure out of having two of the three books I've read being so low-rated, and again, I want to remind you that I enjoyed this book, but with my whole blog kinda relying on me analyzing all this, I can't justify giving it a higher rating. It sucks, but it's true--and while I say this, I'm still going to encourage you to go out and support Gonzales' book. Support all your indie authors--if you got the means, if they're books you wanna support, you should. Creativity is just about constantly under fire from our capitalistic society (*gestures to the animation industry, specifically), so all I can really say is that independent shit is the stuff of the future, and even if not all of them are award-winning, that doesn't mean these stories shouldn't be shared. Artists gotta eat, folks--so, do your favorite writer (I'm your favorite writer as of this sentence, you can bump me down the list after you're done reading my post and I won't hold any grudges) the biggest favor, and go... you know, donate to an artist's Patreon, buy from an indie bookshop, eat at a local business, that type of stuff. For me, fighting capitalism is the greatest act of self-love, and every subscription to content creators, or purchase from small businesses--that's us taking down the machine one brick at a time.
I'm gonna stop talking about capitalism now--I'm working on the post for I Wish You All The Best as you beautiful folks read through this, so hopefully, that'll be up pretty soon. Until then, darlings--listen to your favorite song, or eat your favorite snack, or do something that makes you happy. And don't stay up too late reading fanfiction. It won't be long, my loves!
(1) Yes, queer thing. Aromantic people are queer--there's some debate about whether or not they actually belong in the community, but most aro/ace folk consider themselves a part of the community, and so long as you're not straight, I truly believe you have a place in the community, and I believe that wholeheartedly. I, personally, like romance and sex with whoever, regardless of gender and or sex, but that just ain't everybody's cup of tea. Not everybody drinks tea, y'know? I can respect that, and if you're on my blog, you're gonna respect it too. (All my aro and or ace folks, or anyone on either of those spectrums, I love y'all.)
(2) Paige has gotten real lucky with her group of friends, but not with her taste in movies. Endgame is too long--way too long. I like Marvel and all, but Jesus fucking Christ. I'm not the only one who watched it in theatres and reached that point where I was so glad to see my favorites die because at least it meant the movie was reaching it'd end? (Plus, Peter Parker survived, so I was more-or-less okay, I just didn't want him to die. They did Natasha dirty, though.)
(3) The story doesn't really get into why she's angry, but I'll talk about this in a moment.
(4) No one likes being called a bitch, but another thing that kinda took me out of the story was that they acted like this was the worst possible thing Paige could've been called. I mean, I appreciate the way Gonzales' treats Paige as a character, but I think a white, high school boy calling you a bitch and then calmly leaving after a make out session is incredibly mild—most of the white boys at my high school weren't just idiots, they were assholes.
(5) I'm not saying all of these things are signs of her specific situation, or that really stressed people can't have all these nerdy hobbies, or can't care about their appearance, or anything like that. Her preppy clothes could easily be a way she likes to cope with her stress, in that she might feel bad on the inside but looking good on the outside makes her feel better, or maybe just as a character trait that she dresses nice, or maybe her interest in Harry Potter is a massive reprieve from all her schoolwork—I just think, one way or another, we should've gotten the idea that Maia has a lot on her plate, and if we take out the one mention of her aspirations in the library, we have zilch.
(6) Can you tell I'm passionate about this subject?
(7) The funeral industry is insane. I recommend cremation, a natural burial, or donating your body to science where people can learn from your corpse and then will cremate it and return it to your loved ones.
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