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MASON DEAVER’S I WISH YOU ALL THE BEST
…It was long, my loves! My bad!
You're taking another mile/two-hundred-or-so steps in my Dr. Martens—we're going back to my local bookstore!
For reference, my home is really close to the local mall—it's a bit of a walk, or a drive, but there's an abandoned railroad that cuts the walk in half, leads directly to the parking lot (where I usually always almost get hit by a car with the worst bumper stickers on them), and is covered in broken glass, but getting to the mall means I can go to Barnes and Noble. I really don't like shopping at chains, and there's some indie stores in town, but nowhere nearby—reaching them would mean hitchhiking instead of just trespassing, so until I get over my unhinged and uncontrollable anxiety about driving cars, it's just Barnes and Noble for me.
Naturally, the first place I went to was the LGBTQ+ section—idly flipping through, looking at this one, that one, whatever spoke to me. I looked at one that seemed to have two boys(1) on front, and I thought, 'oh, nice, I could use a MLM book—and one of them's black too, cool.' I flip to the back—and immediately march over to the counter in the back (because the counter in front is never manned by anyone, and I've seen it packed like a sardine can on Black Friday, dunno what that's about) to buy it, because the back informs me that that white boy in purple is not a boy, but a nonbinary teen, and this is a nonbinary story, and ya boi (in the most gender-neutral way possible) wanted a good story with an NB MC. Buying it actually had me fumbling with my wallet and needing to pay the last dollar in change, because I failed to look at the prices, and then I was very thirsty when I went home because I didn't have money to buy me a drink or anything, and it was really hot out—but all my troubles were worth it, because do I got a story for you lovely readers!
The story starts off with Ben De Backer—it's New Years Eve, they're eating dinner with their stereotypically distant, authoritarian (2) father, and the second-in-command mother who seems to answer to him. Ben mentions that they're next in line for art club presidency, with the original one stepping down, and they settle down to watch a movie before Ben decides, now or never, they're coming out.
The next chapter immediately cuts to them out in the middle of the winter, barefoot, desperately calling the sister they haven't heard from in years. They've only kept track of her through Facebook, but she lives an hour away, and they haven't spoken since she left, but they're desperate—they explain that their parents kicked them out.
Kicked them out barefoot, without their phone, or clothes, or even their wallet, or a jacket. They tried to appeal to their mother, but all their parents said was that God didn't want this for them. After the phone call, they sit in the corner of a Walgreens until their older sister, Hannah, arrives. Hannah moved out at eighteen with nothing but a phone number and an address for Ben, back when they didn't even have a phone to call her with—they didn't get so much as a warning, and that was when they were a kid, still. They mostly just remember Hannah got into a lot of fights with both their father—but she's here now. She tries to feed them, and then take them to a hospital, but Ben insists, and she chooses to take them home. She's got a house now—and she's got a husband, Thomas, a science teacher at the high school.
Near immediately, Ben's in the guest room. She goes to talk with her husband, and they go and watch TV, because how the fuck do you sleep after something like this? There isn't a ton to really do, not after the night they had. In the morning, they talk to Hannah about the night before—it requires coming out to her, and for a moment, they assume they're going to be kicked out again, but she's quick to accept them, when she realizes that's why they kicked them out.
From there, Hannah tries to get Ben into therapy—a friend of her's had a son that had one when he came out, and she thinks it'll be useful, but Ben's skeptical. Thomas enrolls them in North Wake High, where they know absolutely nobody. There's a boy in the office when he's there, talking to the secretary—he's tall, black, and you can tell somehow just from the dialogue that everybody loves him, and is fairly familiar with him. He was called in by the principal, but it's not immediately clear why—but while Thomas talks to the principal, he keeps Ben company—and while he's overly friendly, and we as the reader know Ben probably isn't really up for talking to anybody, he's polite, warm, and he says he hopes he sees Ben around.
So, Ben comes, they go through the enrollment process, and Thomas explains that he already figured out somebody to show him around campus—Nathan Allen, from the office.
Before their first day at North Wake, they get into a conversation with Mariam—they're another enby that they met from the internet, because they got a lot of online presence, and serve as a resource for many nonbinary youth. At some point, the two of them developed a friendship, and for a lot of the story, they're the only other friend Ben really has that they're out to—they don't want to come out again and face rejection from their peers, not after being rejected by their parents.
At North Wake, they're given a tour by Nathan Allen, the previous boy from the office. This is when Ben realizes that North Wake is much more modern and new than his old school was, even if they know absolutely no one. There's tons of improvements—like a state of the art classroom for... art, where the teacher, a kind and much beloved Missus Liu, basically gives Ben free-range of it, and of course, Nathan, who spends the whole tour as friendly as a teenager could possibly be.
Some point after their first day, Hannah brings up the subject of therapy again, and does get them to agree to a session, just one—Ben responds in that stereotypical-TV-teenage way where they want anything else, and forty-five minutes is forty-five minutes too long. I think the phrase "poke around my brain" is used at least once—I don't know why every teenager in the media gets all huffy about going to a therapist, or why payment for them is never discussed (because let me tell you, it's expensive as HELL). The appointment, though, goes over easily—Ben comes out, with some guidance from Hannah, talks about some of his anxiety, Doctor Taylor walks him through the typical discussions of privacy, confidentiality, etc., and they get to see her about once every two weeks, which is about when I see mine, too (or I'm supposed to), I think that's the most common amount of time between appointments, but I don't know, everyone I know has it ever two weeks.
Anyway, Ben's talking about stuff with Mariam while Hannah and Thomas are out for a date at night, when someone pulls up in the driveway. Ben's definitely been nervous (anyone with anxiety can probably relate to their inability to focus on Doctor Taylor's name when they're looking for her office, and the sweaty-feeling, the cold-hands, the inability to breathe when you're mind's properly worked up), and to me, it's obvious they've had anxiety before this, but the realization that the car in Hannah's driveway is their parents throws them into a full-on anxiety attack, and is what leads to an actual diagnosis from Doctor Taylor.
Back at school, Ben's pouring their heart out mainly in their art. Wake's art class is a thousand times better than anything they've ever had, so it makes sense that they're taking full advantage of the supplies. It's early, but they hitched a ride with Thomas, and it just so happens that Nathan is also there, as a part of the student council—they're supposed to be planning the Spring Fling, which is like homecoming, but later in the year. The cited reason in the novel is that the people of Wake High are more baseball-people than football people, but I feel like US high schools going apeshit over football is a universal thing, so it might just be more of a way for Mason to be able to give it importance in the story (3), I don't know, but Nathan's helping plan it. While waiting, he chats Ben up, and gets them to show them their art—like just about all teenage artists, they're severely underestimating their skill. There's a bit more conversation, but when Nathan realizes there isn't a ton to talk about, he decides that the world's too loud sometimes, and just relaxes in silence. When he leaves, he leaves Ben with his phone number and the obvious start of a crush.
Ben actually eats lunch with him and his friends—there's Meleika, a girl with a lunchbox Ben wants to steal and has some awesome-sounding cornrows, and then there's Sophie, with glasses and a jacket covered in pins. I'll say it here—they had the potential to be meaningful characters and add to the plot, but they really don't for any of the story. Like, you know how all stories got those characters in the background that just flesh out interactions, and the settings as a whole? Imagine one of those repeating like, three times. No real dimension, they're just there. But they're nice enough, and they mention Nathan's been talking about Ben, and they're also what prompt the discussion about grades—mainly, that Nathan needs tutoring in biology, and Ben's good at biology, and well, Nathan's good with English when they're not, so really, tutoring him could work in their favor…
Now, integrated into Nathan's friend group, Ben sorta has a place at the school—and then there's Mrs. Liu's art room, that she's just offered a key to them for their use. After Nathan steals their phone and takes a whole bunch of selfies before returning it, Ben tries to find some sort of inspiration for a painting, and ends up choosing him as a subject, in between the school, and helping his friends, and the therapy appointments. They do worry it could come off as a little creepy, but they still do it all—it's also what brings about another major plot point, an art show Mrs. Liu sets up for her students and that she wants Ben to be a part of.
Naturally, a party pops up, and the gang convinces Ben to come with them, promising only thirty-minutes. Ben tries to keep it from their sister, because they don't imagine she'd like them going to a party that they know is gonna have underage drinking, and Hannah insists on changing their clothes—apparently, they look super hot in these pants they borrow.
The party is the typical high-school rager in every work with a teenage main character—the drunkest among them is this guy named Todd, and he's so fucking drunk. Nathan says he loses all knowledge of boundaries or personal space when he's drunk, and he keeps pressuring Ben to drink. Ben is, rightfully, uncomfortable, but with Nathan there, they kinda want to impress him, show that they're cool.
Every last bit of alcohol that they try is disgusting though—Todd tries to get them on a date with a random girl they don't even know, and Nathan leaps in, asking Ben to dance—not because he wants to dance, but because he gets the feeling they want out of the situation. They decide to try and locate Meleika and Sophie again, but by the time they've found it, Ben is fully out of it, and tells Nathan they're just going to wait by the car.
Nathan assumes it's that they've had too much to drink, but Ben insists it's not—after calming down enough to not be in immediate danger of throwing up or crying, Ben asks if they can leave, and ends up going with Nathan to his house, because they don't want their sister to see them like this.
Nathan leads the way to the roof of his home, calling it his "quiet place," like what Ben's got at the quad at school. For awhile, they're quiet before Ben admits to him that their parents disowned them.
One of the first questions Nathan asks is if they hate them—but Ben finds that they simply can't, because who can possibly hate their parents? Not them. Not even if they want to.
Spring break hits. They go shopping with Hannah, and it's one of the first few times where they don't have to stick only to the men's sides, with their sister's support. This is also what leads to maybe the first attempt between them to actually bond—Hannah paints their nails and they discuss recent things, like the art show Ben's teacher wants them to submit a work into, and the importance of labels. Ben's got no intention of wearing their nail polish to school, but doesn't see the harm in wearing it around the house—baby steps and all.
Towards the end of the break, Nathan talks them into coming with him to a surprise: a picnic in the park, with a showing of Star Wars. Now, obviously, it's not a date because they're just friends. Friends that climb onto rooftops and talk about their feelings together, and friends that go have picnics in the park together (I'm trying to be sarcastic, but that's exactly the type of shit I love doing with my friends, so I'll just stop talking). They discuss all the essentials you need to know about somebody you're in love with, such as: pancakes or waffles, their relationship with the ocean and beaches, and if Ben will ever forgive their parents for what they did. Ben still isn't quite sure, and Nathan tells them, whatever happens, he wishes them the best.
As if on cue, that night, Ben finds a message on their computer, sent from their mother. It's a little old, but in it, she begs Ben to consider meeting with her and their father in the city, without Hannah knowing, because she couldn't forgive herself if the last time she spoke to either of her children were fights (even though it wasn't so much as a fight, as it was them throwing out their child).
Ben thinks it over, and discusses it with their therapist—but ultimately does go to see them, and doesn't tell Hannah, which is probably the most serious red flag of all time, and might have you cursing under your breath, like when that half-naked woman in a horror movie goes to investigate the noise in the basement unarmed. They do, though, tell Nathan, and he accompanies them to the restaurant where they meet.
It doesn't go super well. Their father is aggressive, their mother is a little too desperate to have Ben move back home—they admit to doing some research, though clearly not enough, and the whole thing feels awkward. You get the feeling that Ben doesn't actually want to be there—they're maybe just as aggressive as their father, which, let's be honest, is perfectly fair. But the truth is, Ben never actually wanted that meeting with their parents—they wanted their parents to come around, to understand, to apologize, and for everything to go off without a hitch, they didn't want the confrontation or the conversation, and… I can't blame them. It's unrealistic, but usually, our all-consuming desire for unconditional love and support is unrealistic. Their parents try to convince Ben to come back home with them after graduation, and Nathan comes over to break up the conversation, claiming they have plans and they're running late.
After all this, and after admitting to Nathan what the whole conversation was about, Ben decides they're doing the art show—and tells Nathan they're entering a portrait of him into it.
…And then comes the art show.
Ben is a simple take on a lot of things queer teenagers face when coming out—losing their home, a big chunk of their family, everything. This rejection would of course fester—and in Ben, it manifests as anxiety and depression. A lot of teenagers would also face suicidal ideation, or self-harm tendencies, and while Ben doesn't seem to, it doesn't mean that their mental health isn't suffering as much as it is. I think, overall, Ben's mental health is delved into and discussed relatively realistically, without being too triggering. I can take another teenager having their depression and anxiety treated and medicated—I can't say that reading a story where the main character is battling suicidal thoughts wouldn't affect me, especially with how much my mental health's been fluctuating recently. To me, the realism is enough for me to nod my head, and say, 'yeah, this makes sense,' and give the book a sort of grounded feeling, without being too outright depressing. Not all art's gotta be dark and depressing to be deep—though, I wouldn't ever diss somebody's thoughtful work that happens to delve into misery and shit. I just think this works for the novel, especially since the ending is super hopeful, and pretty lighthearted.
As background, Ben doesn't got a happy past, though—their parents are distant, a little too overbearing when it comes to their grades, but not caring enough about their passions and their identity. When they talk about their art, their parents don't really pay attention, putting more emphasis on a lecture about grades and threats that they'd have to give up art club if their grades slip too much—this is in response to just Ben talking about the art club, and while it's a typical parent thing, 'you have to drop your extracurriculars to focus on your grades, if they're falling', it's just a dick move to bring it up when grades aren't even the subject. If Ben had been saying, 'yeah, I failed a test, it's gonna affect my grade, that's when a properly-concerned parent says, 'well, your grades gotta come first, kiddo, you might need to drop some stuff so you can focus more on studying,' but in this instance it just rubs in the fact that Ben's parents don't function so much as caregivers as people who think they get to dictate what they do, and also sometimes care about them, and even then, it seems more like they care about their own attachment to them, versus who they are as a person.
So, they're dealing with a past with a… complicated relationship with their parents, and a current, complicated relationship with their sister. Their sister left at eighteen with no warning, and only gave them a note with an address and a phone number—at the time, Ben had no way to reach her, and says that with her gone, their parents essentially targeted him, like they didn't want them to end up like her—this has obviously bred some sort of resentment. It seems like (or maybe it's outright stated) Hannah's current care is her trying to compensate for having abandoned them.
Either way, it totally makes sense that Ben's struggling to cope with their new reality. They've lost all their friends, and I mean, they say they don't got much friends other than Mariam, but things were looking bright in the art club, and I feel like there's always that one person you talk to about once a day at school that you might not be "friends" with, but you still interact with them, and notice when they're gone. It might just be that we don't have enough background on their life at their school before, but either way, they've lost a lot. A bomb ass older sister, and her supportive husband, and a good art room, and a generally friendly student body, and a therapist—those can make the transition easier, but not easy.
To be honest, I don't think this book would work if anything was any harder for Ben—I think the point was that things are progressively getting better for Ben. Yes, there's setbacks—an anxiety attack, some insomnia, a rough party, and the climax, but all that needs to happen so they can get a diagnosis, get medication, develop a better relationship with Nathan, come to terms with their new relationship with their parents and their sister.
I think Ben's got a certain charm to them—they're quiet, relatively shy that's only heightened with these new changes in their life. There's various things they want to do for themselves, but can't/won't because they're aware of the world they live in—they don't want to get bullied for having painted nails at school, and they don't want to get hate-crimed for wearing a dress out in public. In general, queer rights have come a long way since the Stonewall Riots, and some people might say the LGBTQ+ community isn't oppressed anymore. (4) I'd argue that has more to do with geography—I like to say that I live in the reddest city, in one of the bluest states. There's a lot of bigots in my hometown, in my neighborhood, in my family—but that could be said of a lot of places. There's even a ton of bigots in the community! I'm lucky enough that I don't have to worry about getting thrown out of my home, that I generally don't have to worry about some religious zealot attacking me if I look fruity to them. …But this isn't everybody's normal.
A lot of places won't hire you if you're trans. A lot of transgender people who are hired will still face harassment, misgendering, and the typical trans problems. Employers will refuse to let you in the bathroom of your preferred gender—and this is how you end up like Noah Ruiz from Ohio, a trans man who was told to use the women's restroom, as a result of having not gone through gender-reaffirming surgery. The campground owner told him to use the women's restroom—he was in there with his girlfriend. Another woman freaked out at seeing him, and upon leaving, he was jumped by three men, who physically assaulted him, choked him, hit him, and threatened to kill him, while calling him slurs. Every TERF that brings up the idea of "a man in the woman's bathroom!" Ignores the inherent harm of an actual man, such as Ruiz, going into the woman's bathroom. No woman's going to feel safe with that—but would you expect a transwoman going into the men's bathroom to feel safe? FUCK NO. That's how women on the news get gang raped and or murdered. Fuck, when I go out with my hair short, and my chest bound, and I can't find a gender-neutral bathroom—I fucking hold it. When I'm presenting as more feminine (which is more common, I just look super feminine), I can use the woman's bathroom, but I don't like taking the risk. This isn't just a U.S. thing, either—corrective rape, the act of sexually abusing (usually) a lesbian woman with the intention of turning her straight, isn't recognized as a crime in South Africa. Not every other country has the same rights the queer citizens of the U.S. got—yes, things are getting better, never let it be said that I don't know that, but when queer people try to say that we're no longer oppressed… It's just about always the white ones, from their middle-class or higher families. There is no one reality for anybody queer, and the problems extend far past discomfort choosing the right bathroom to use.
I'm only saying all this because some asshole tried to tell me Ben's worry about being seen in public in a dress, or having their nails painted, seemed overblown—and like, I do get it, because I don't think most people would notice a bit of pink on their nails, but it's super obvious that at that point in the story, Ben just isn't brave enough to step outside of the gender roles expected of somebody who looks like them—and that's okay. I get the desire to go out and finally fucking look the way you want to look, believe me, I do, but a teenager should never put that desire over their own safety. It's not Ben's fault their parents chose what they wanted for their children over what their children were and wanted for themselves, and I refuse to blame them for being a victim of their parents' bigotry. For this story, it's one-hundred percent accurate for them to struggle with it all, to falter when coming out, to steer clear of skirts and nail polish.
I also love Ben for just being another take on a nonbinary main character—I feel like a lot of nonbinary characters tend to be treated more as Woman Lite, than anything. They've got short, colored hair, and they're always white, and skinny, and AFAB. I am saying this as an AFAB, white(5), skinny enby with short hair—I'm nothing if not self-aware. They're either perfectly androgynous one-hundred-percent of the time, or they're feminine. And I mean, Ben's white, and skinny, and has relatively short hair—but the story genuinely portrays them as outside of the gender binary. They're misgendered, they want to dress with things more stereotypically associated with girls—but the discussion I really want when we see enby characters in the media was there. They got a friendship with another enby, too—Mariam, who's Shia Muslim and balances their gender identity with their religion in a way I've straight-up never seen before, and I'm so fucking for it. Ben even mentions their sexuality—how they're only attracted to people they perceive as men, even though they know that just because they look like a guy doesn't mean they couldn't be nonbinary like them. I just don't get to see a lot of that.
That said, while Ben has their charms… they're very, very passive. It never feels like they're really going after what they want—they don't really make a move on Nathan, it has to be up to Nathan to tell them how he feels. It feels like stuff in the plot happens, and Ben just goes along with it—I don't know, I get kinda sick of the same quiet, introverted teenagers. Like, I get it, I know plenty of teenagers are introverts, and I don't know if I am or what, and Ben's own introvertedness doesn't stop the story from having a mandated rager where everybody's drinking, but even that ends because of Ben's anxiety. Anxiety and depression are valid reasons to not want to do things, but this book awakened this craving inside me—I want the teenagers in my books to do dumb shit. Give me teenagers that punch the wall and break their knuckles in the middle of their angst. Give me teenagers that go skinny dipping in the middle of the night, and are nearly caught, and also simultaneously realize that the water's too cold to make this even remotely enjoyable, and they get out and throw their clothes back home, go home in defeat and still catch a cold. Teenagers that drink, and instead of the typical "this is awful," they're like, no, this isn't half-bad, and then they drink way more than they mean to, and they have to go do something really important the next day with the worst hangover they've ever had, and their parents find out and punish them in like, the most creative way, like taking them to an amusement park and watching them puke their guts up eight times throughout the day. I refuse to believe I'm the only teenager that went to their junior prom just for the experience and ended up crying alone in the parking lot because they had like, the biggest realization in their life in the middle of the dance floor, and they were literally only inside for thirty minutes, and they spent so much fucking money on makeup just to realize that they were never gonna be happy and they always set themselves up for misery because they know they're never going to be happy. Honestly, I think that's one of the things Take Me To Your Nerdy Leader got right—how fucking stupid teenagers are. Even the quiet teenagers can be fucking crazy—and even if they're not, they still have some sort of drive. Maybe a part of it is that Ben doesn't plan on going to college—so there's no hard choices for them to make on colleges, the tests, the essays, thinking about where to go, how to survive, what to pursue. Like that's a huge part of being a teenager, and while it's perfectly valid that it doesn't fit Ben, and I'd love more stories about teenagers pursuing something different than what's expected of them, all Ben seems to intend to do is… not go to college. Mariam mentions that they're going to do graphic design and stuff—Ben doesn't want to take any classes on that? Maybe not the traditional college experience, no business degree, okay, I get that—but like… what are they gonna do? The truth is, starving artists (in the traditional sense, and obviously just in general) aren't as common anymore. Times are changing—artists can be animators, and illustrators, and they can design logos for businesses, you can be a print manager, an art teacher, an art director, a creative director, a curator, a set manager, a tattoo artist—but Ben never discusses it, it's just what they're not gonna do, and it just brings a certain bland flavor to their character that took me outta the story.
Nathan, as Ben's love interest, is amazing. He's funny, he's clever, he's kind, and he's hot. Honestly, if Nathan was real and happened to have a thing for brunet enbies, I'd hit that, he sounds awesome—but I feel like the story doesn't do them justice. What about what he wants to do? He's going to college, but what is he pursuing? What job does he want? Maybe I'm just too skeptical of high school relationships, but the story spends all it's time addressing their attraction for each other, and not really their compatibility. What are their plans for the future? Do they expect their relationship to last for a long time? Are they planning in the long-term?
I'm also confused about why every love interest in the books I keep reading are always in love with Pride and Prejudice, and I'm so okay with it, because I think it's—overall—a good book, honestly, but I don't think Mason Deaver's actually read Pride and Prejudice. Pride and Prejudice was about like, the norms of the era, and the uncertainty of love being in a happy ending, when what you're really after is a comfortable marriage, and it's about swallowing your pride, going for what makes you happy, no matter what others want for you. Darcy's confession to Elizabeth, in his first proposal, is god-awful. The whole point is that his proposal is awful, he focuses too much on Elizabeth's background, that's why she turns him down. That's not where the romance of the story sets in—it's that, after being turned down, Darcy checks himself and improves. Darcy doesn't convince Lydia and That Other Guy I Can't Remember The Name Of Write Now to marry (to avoid bringing shame to the family, which is a big deal for the time period) until after he's rejected, to make sure Elizabeth's family don't suffer the ordeal that would be one of the Bennet daughters living with a man out of wedlock. It's Darcy being polite, treating Elizabeth better, and staying attracted to her for her charm and wit—and when he proposes again, he makes it clear that if Elizabeth wants him to stop with his affections, all she needs to do is say it, and he will.
It just doesn't translate to the story—and I appreciate the fact that Nathan's got a good taste in literature, but I think it would've helped if Deaver actually knew the story themselves, because Nathan didn't have to like Pride and Prejudice. If Mason wanted him as a character to just have a more romantic aspect, they could have given him a soft spot for poetry, or a love of rom-coms, or any other romance novel that they knew about. Or, at least done enough research to settle on Nathan looking Ben in the eye and saying, "I love you most ardently," which would have been plenty romantic. It's more than likely this wouldn't mean anything to the average reader, but it really stuck out to me.
FIRST FIVE PAGES:
The first five pages, as y'all probably know by now but maybe don't, is meant to be the basis of your novel—this is how you grab your audience's attention, how you start off the plot, and how you first show your character.
I will say that the first five pages does a pretty good job at showing off the main character—we know Ben has a lot on their mind, we know Ben has a sort of uncomfortable relationship with their family. That their mother's a little overbearing, and their father is distant, but expects a lot. It does a good job at starting off the plot, the conflict…
But it doesn't really grab the attention. This is likely because the scene itself is pretty boring—I mean, it's a family dinner, and then a movie—the first five pages doesn't even have Ben saying that they're nonbinary (though, the back makes it incredibly obvious, so you'll go into the story knowing that, just like you'll know that they're going to be thrown out of their house). Just a night with the family isn't usually the most exciting thing ever, not unless you write it out to be exciting, and it's super obvious Mason is seeking to show it off as rather plain. I think it does work for the novel—just about none of this book has a scene that really stands by itself as entertaining. If somebody picked it up, flipped to a random page, and decided the book would only be interesting to them, if this page was interesting, then…Unless they somehow manage to flip to the climax, they're probably not going to want to keep reading. Again, this does work for the novel, because it's not really a comedy, and it's not meant to be zany and out there, it's meant to be grounded. This is like, a realistic story, and with that said, I don't think this is the type of book somebody looking for a good read is going to pick up and leave with. This is the type of book that you recommend to a friend who wants some NB-representation, or a cishet friend who's trying to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community, or just, 'hey, support this author, this book's decent,' not the kind you think, 'yes. This is what I read, this looks interesting.' I'm talking only general—I think there's specific types of books people want to read, and I'm talking about the reader that just thinks, 'I want a good read.' If they do pick up this one, and read those first five pages… I can't exactly imagine someone thinking, 'this one!'
The main character's white, and able, and shit—I'm looking for books with main characters of color, and disabilities and stuff, because it looks like I'm gonna have to actively search for them. Now, the book's so Ben-focused that we don't know a ton about the other characters' backgrounds, outside of really race—like, that Nathan's Black, and Melieka's Black, and Sophie is Korean-American. This isn't like One Last Stop, where I can applaud the bits of culture that seep into the story to flesh out the cast, but it does make sense, I guess—One Last Stop really centered around community, and found-family, so when stuff like language, or home, or family, or stuff usually relating to culture come up, it did make sense in that August's home was a mish-mash of culture, especially present in New York City, and I don't know how much you could expect a character like, say, Sophie to have the roots to Korean culture all the way in North Carolina, especially since Korean-American, in the context of Sophie, could mean anything. For all we know, she immigrated from Korea literally the month before the story starts, or she could just be Korean in ethnicity, and have no ties to the actual place, or she could be born and raised in the U.S, given a non-Korean name, and yet raised with very strong ties to the culture that her parents keep alive, and we just aren't exposed to any of it. And all this about Sophie is just lead-up to say that where Ben assumes that Sophie is Korean-American (and is right, because they're the narrator, and this is never brought up or questioned)—that's rude as fuck. Don't ever assume somebody's ethnicity, because you will look like a jackass if you get it wrong. Honest mistakes can be forgiven, and friends will usually answer if you ask—but like, assuming a stranger is anything can and will make you look like a jackass. It's just bad.
It's not bad to just state a character's race or ethnicity—if you're looking for another way to say it, while also revealing more about that character, you can make references to their culture, their background, their religion, their language. Have a character mention their parents in Sri Lanka and how they send letters back and forth, a character who met their partner in synagogue, a character fumble over a word in English and say the French equivalent before someone catches on, have a character mention horse meat was a delicacy where they came from. You can use descriptions for their appearance to hint towards an ethnicity—a veil, maybe, or a bindi on their forehead, monolid eyes they inherited from their father, a bulbous nose that matches their aunt's—whatever. That's not necessarily a need, it just shows more about your characters in a more organic way—it's just something about Sophie that really stuck out to me.
I'll give Deaver props in that there was effort in the diversity, and again, diversity shouldn't be the main selling point of a novel—I mean, the fact that Ben's crush is a super charming, smart, friendly Black boy is great. It's just that, somewhat similar to Take Me To Your Nerdy Leader, a lot of this stuff feels half-baked.
That has more to do with Sophie and Meleika—these two had a lot of potential, and it made sense for Nathan to already have a friend group to introduce Ben to, but outside of that, they have zero purpose, and it makes their appearances weird. It would've made more sense if they just popped in places, said hi, and then left. Instead, it's like Deaver's trying to make them actual characters, with none of the development. They don't even get a chance to establish any type of friendship with Ben—they're just… there. It's particularly glaring towards the end, at that art show—without spoiling anything, there's conflict, and Meleika and Sophie are described as "ready to brawl" and it's not that I don't understand why they're like that, it's just that… it doesn't make sense. The word choice really implies that they're closer than they really are—you aren't "ready to brawl" for a sorta-friend. They could have been cringing, sympathetic, shocked, they could've been anything that somebody watching and understanding the scene could be—but worse than that, I don't even think it would've been hard to develop a friendship between them. There's one scene where the two of them are painting each other's nails, and Ben even says they love the color, and while it's totally understandable they're not yet ready to look that feminine in public, how hard would it have been for one of them to notice how they're looking at the nail polish? They could have made a joke, like, "Oh, Ben, you want your nails painted too? This is totally your color!" And Ben could've took them up on it, and they could've bonded. Painting someone's nails is a really good way to form a bond with someone! It's close contact, you're either making conversation, or just sitting there in silence—that's the perfect moment in a story for a character to realize x person has dimples, or a birthmark an inch away from their eye, or a scar that retreats into their hairline, or that their dark eyes got specks of green and they have the most beautiful hazel eyes they've ever seen. Again, it was just a missed opporuntunity and the only thing I can really say about the two of them, other than that, is that I refuse to believe in any reality where those two aren't dating, and Deaver's should've put that in there. C'mon—Sophie, with her jacket, and her pins. That's a bi thing. If she isn't bi, I will pour an entire pot of black coffee directly into my eyes.
It might just be that most works these days seem to be in third-person point-of-view (using he/she/they), so these first-person (using mainly "I") ones always stand out, and I think… it takes a lot of work to pull it off. A lot of the times, the first-person stories tend to start off all the sentences with "I", and it affects the flow of the story. Using any word too much can affect the flow—and sometimes, it's for a point, and it adds to the story in one way or another, but sometimes it's just something that needs to be worked out in editing. Like instead of, for example, "I step into the room. I have to blink a lot to clear my eyes in the bright light flooding the room. My stomach clenches—I can't do this." You can combine sentences, rearrange them a little to say something more like, "I step into the room. The bright light flooding the room has me blinking a lot, to clear my eyes. My stomach clenches—there's no way I can do this." There's a lot of things to keep in mind when writing, which is that you shouldn't overuse words, and a lot of sentences in a work tend to be longer than they need, and you need different types of sentences for a paragraph's flow… It's a lot, writing's hard work!
The weird part was that wasn't what was nagging me throughout this book, the first person. It was just… the structure, something else that messed with it. Like, for example—a lot of paragraphs started with dialogue. That's not exactly a bad thing, and like, I prefer books with dialogue, obviously, but there's something about almost every paragraph that starts with a quotation mark that really starts to get on you, and it might be something as simple that it needs more diaglogue tags—like, "Hannah said," or "Nathan whispered," or… something. Dialogue tags also aren't something you want to overuse—writing is a balancing act. So, a lot of tags are something you want to replace with actions that will still make it clear who's saying it and how. Like, instead of saying:
He shouted, "I don't need your advice on something I don't even care about!"
You could try:
He stood up and clenched his fists at his sides. "I don't need your advice on something I don't even care about!"
Again, this adds to the length, but brevity's never been my strong suit, whatever. You get the gist.
Now, these writing segments aren't for me to be like, "These are bad authors and I know exactly how to improve your work if you listen to me, as my knowledge and interest is superior," because we all make mistakes and just about every work can be improved, whether I can think of something or not. No work is perfect—ever. But this is all just a very long winded way for me to say that while the point of this story is clear, and I know the characters and the actions, something about it just... falls flat.
As an example (spoiler for the end of the book), Nathan finally admits to Ben how he feels on the night of prom. Ben makes it clear they're not going to prom, and Nathan's totally cool with that, but manages to get them out, and he leads them to the roof of his house (where they've had a lot of bonding moments) and confesses his feelings, a nervous wreck, in the warm summer air. He's not at prom because Ben isn't there. This should be romantic as Hell. This should be amazing. It has all the stuff to be something great.
It's mediocre. It doesn't quite got the emotion it should, and I can't say exactly why. I thought this was a 'just me' thing, but somebody from a class I'm in actually saw me reading the book, and asked how I was liking it, and when I said it was mediocre, she told me she hadn't read this book, but she had read another book by Mason Deaver, and found that it just… wasn't all that great. Mediocre, she agreed. That doesn't necessarily speak to this book, but it might just be Deaver's writing. And also—they've won a metric fuckton of awards, so I think it goes to say, that they don't necessarily lack talent, even if I and this other person didn't like our respective books.
I will also say that on top of the writing being plain, mediocre, etcetera, I thought, at times, it was a little too bleak. That might be the subject choice—I mean, this is a kid getting thrown out of their home for who they are and coming to terms with the fact that their parents were pretty shitty people. It's understandable it would be a little rough—but, as a fellow nonbinary author, I really wish Deaver had taken this as a chance to write about trans joy just as much as it was trans tragedy. Losing your family is hard—devastating. Coming out is stressful—there's been many a story about that, and by no means am I saying we should stop writing these stories. I'm just saying, it gets a little old, and with the quote on the front of the book from Becky Albertail that "This book will save lives," I had really been hoping it would delve into that. I wanted to watch Ben relax with a group of friends for a movie and realize it was totally different from their family. I wanted to see Ben in the middle of a sleepover, whispering secrets to their new found-family, and laughing until they're crying with people who understand them. I wanted to see the elation of someone asking for their pronouns, or finally getting the courage to wear that one outfit they thought they would never, or admiring their reflection in the mirror and loving the person staring back. I was really under the impression I would get that with this novel—so, maybe it's not so much Deaver's fault for not writing it, as it is me for my expectations?
However, there's this completely different point I would like to get into, and I will in a second, and something that's probably greatly impacted this work as a whole, and thus, my review.
Mason Deaver is a nonbinary author (mad fucking respect!) born in North Carolina. As of writing this blog, they seem to be in San Francisco, and they've written many other stories than I Wish You All The Best, including The Ghosts We Keep, The Feeling of Falling In Love, and a short-story serving as a sequel to IWYATB, I'll Be Home For Christmas.
I'm really inclined to think Ben serves as a sort of author avatar for Deaver—my evidence is a little sparse, mainly relating to the fact that they're both nonbinary, but also the part in their FAQ on their website starts off with a guide to pronouncing their name, and I'm a little confused—it's literally pronounced the way it's spelt. Dee-Ver. Did they actually get that question a lot? Probably not their name so much as it's just people being very bad at pronouncing their names. Everybody knows how the substitute teachers in school would always add an extra syllable or something, or completely misread some. (Mine was always easy to read, because it was common, but the problem was that that was my deadname. Still not as bad as some of the egregious pronunciation of some names I've heard.) But it's like, a part in the story where Nathan says Ben's last name, and Ben comments that he even pronounced it correctly.
On top of I Wish You All The Best becoming a massive hit, Deaver's won Pink News' Best Young Adult Book, and was named on a list of Cosmopolitan's 100 best YA books—currently, they're also working on a movie for I Wish You All The Best. They can be found on their website masondeaverwrites.com, or their Twitter @masondeaver.
The art show comes—whoooo!
Ben's all dressed, and all their friends are there, and Nathan's there, and Sophie and Meleika are there, I guess—you know who else is there?
Their parents. Uh-huh.
Ben sends Nathan to go distract Hannah and Thomas, because the last thing they want is for Hannah to realize they've been in touch with them—their parents find them, and try again to show off they've been doing their research. Ultimately, though, their father isn't really taking it seriously, and their mother still isn't trying hard enough, and even now, facing the possibility that both her children will hate her, refuses to stand up for them against their father. (There's also a point where she grabs Ben, and her grip is so tight or her nails dig into skin or something, they're in physical pain.)
Ben tries to get them to leave, but Nathan can only stall for so long—the minute Hannah sees them, she makes a beeline for them.
It goes as well as you'd expect—the scene grabs everyone's attention away from the art and on Ben's whole family. Hannah's pissed they're there, and Ben's father is antagonistic. It's not entirely clear if Hannah is pissed on Ben's behalf, or if it's because of her own beef with them—but everybody's very loud about their distaste, and there's this one moment where Ben catches their father's hand twitching, like he's going to slap her. (6) Ben is humiliated—everybody pities them, watches, Meleika and Sophie are ready to fight for them. Quickly, Ben takes off with Nathan before it can get any worse, even when their mother tries to stop them. Nathan takes them to his house, where neither Hannah or their parents can't find them, and finally breaks down.
Ben also gets an emergency appointment with their therapist—she calls Hannah in, and they talk it out, the way family should. Hannah admits she didn't want to leave Ben—but in the midst of her rebellion, Hannah ended up sleeping with someone and had a pregnancy scare, and while her test showed up negative, when their parents found it, their father hit her and she left the minute she turned eighteen. She's regretted leaving Ben. She didn't want to—but she insists, she had to. After isolating themselves for like, a month, Hannah convinces them to go to a senior thing with his friends, and they go and hang out (it happens, but it's not all that plot-important).
And then, Mariam visits! They're on tour and they wanted to finally meet Ben—and it's in this meeting where Mariam mentions some weird conference they're going to (I think it's only really mentioned that they're on tour, they're going to give a speech, they have a Q&A, but the book offers little details whatsoever of what they actually say, just that it's supposed to be impressive, which was actually really disappointing), and convinces Ben to not just come out to Nathan, but catch dinner with them afterwards, claiming there's a new project they've got in the works they want to talk to Ben about.
So, Ben comes out to Nathan. It's nerve wracking, but emotional—they cry. Nathan apologizes for getting it wrong in the past (even though he couldn't have known better), and they go to the Thing with Mariam, and all we know about this thing that Mariam apparently goes super in depth with but that the reader gets no details for, is that it goes well. (I don't wanna be rude, but like, so much could've been done with the lecture, and it really bothers me. On top of being awkward in the story, it just makes Mariam's importance fall flat.)
Prom tickets go on sale—Ben decides it's not something they can do, or even really want to do, though Nathan does bring it up. In the mean time, Mrs. Liu—the art teacher—calls them down to get the key to the art room, signaling the end of Ben's time at North Wake. While it's an end to their use of al these art supplies, it's not the end of their art career.
Time skip to prom night, and Nathan gets him onto the roof of his house, where they've had many a (vaguely) intimate moment, and he confesses that he has feelings for Ben. Really, really deep feelings. They share a kiss under the night sky—when the subject of terms for a significant other come up, Nathan seems to settle on my person, instead of boyfriend or girlfriend, mostly because Ben has terrible taste and thinks there's something wrong with the term partner.
Time skip to the end of the summer—forget about Hannah, forget about Ben's parents, they're at the beach with their boyfriend! …And Meleika and Sophie, who only seem to be there to draw attention to how in love they are. At this moment, Ben reveals that while they're going to be separated with Nathan going off to college, they will be following him—not to go to college, but to help Mariam with their YouTube channel.
Things are better with their sister, they wear their nail polish out of the house, they got a super hot boyfriend, their parents aren't even an issue, and they got a bright future ahead of them—and Nathan wishes them all the best.
THINGS COUNTING FOR:
—A nonbinary main character????? FUCK YEAH!
—I really liked Ben's conversation with their sister, while she painted their nails, about the labels. Hannah suggests that maybe one day, labels won't even be in common use, and she asks what Ben thinks about that as a queer person. They respond saying that they think the labels will always stick around, because people find comfort in them. Now, I tend to lean more towards a middle-ground, where labels are pretty common but not everything can be or needs a label, and also that language changes over time, on the area, etcetera, but those are the conversations I like seeing in my queer stories! Regardless of whether or not I agree with the points, it felt like a respectful, thoughtful conversation, that also adds to the characterization of Hannah because it's very clear to me, she has those conversations with them to get to know them better, and show that she cares.
—The main character's love interest is a well-rounded, intelligent, cute Black boy, with a romantic side to him in his love of Pride and Prejudice, and isn't afraid to be friends with girls. On top of him being bisexual! Honestly, if I was in Ben's place, I'd've started hitting on Nathan in an instant, he's a massive cutie. Definitely my favorite character—yes, more than the nonbinary character I picked this book up for.
—I really liked Ben's irrational anger of being misgendered, after making the choice to not come out. Like, yes, it's a little irrational, but they're very much aware of it. Thomas asks for consent to say it, Ben doesn't give it, so no one knows because they're scared of rejection. Again, my experiences don't entirely line up with theirs, because I like to misgender myself for the sake of comedy, and when people seriously slip up, I always find myself more uncomfortable than anything, not necessarily angry—but we shouldn't pick up queer books to see our exact same experiences shot out at us. Yes, I argue for diversity because it helps to see ourselves and our experiences in the media, but there's few—if, arguably, any despite the jokes I make about being queer—universal queer experiences, and there's so much to write and read about. Having Ben angry about being misgendered when nobody even knows that they're nonbinary just adds another layer to the representation for me, and I very much appreciate it.
—Mason Deaver writes that this is the story they needed when they were younger. I don't know, there's something profoundly powerful about writing the story you know you needed when you were younger, about giving that to other people. I can't even quite put it into words, I just know I love it.
—I really appreciate the fact that Ben talks about their sexuality. Gender identity can be a little extra confusing with the layer of sexuality—people have tried to argue with me that nonbinary identities are not included in bisexuality, and for most people, terms like gay and straight don't really apply? If you don't have a gender on the typical spectrum, then how do you like someone of the same gender? The opposite? It's complicated, to say the same, and I genuinely like when it's brought up, because it adds more depth to how a character identifies—Ben, for example, is attracted to anyone they perceive as a guy, or more masculine. While they swing for guys, they admit that a random person they see on the street that they think is a guy might not be a man at all.
—not just a Muslim side character, but a queer Muslim side character. (In the acknowledgements, Deaver thanks an actual Mariam that they know for their help, and claims to have borrowed their name for the character—I googled it, just in case this was a real person, maybe even with a real YouTube channel, but I couldn't find anything that connected to the character, though that could be more of a testament to my research abilities than their online presence.) I'm not a thousand-percent sure where the real!Mariam ends and book!Mariam begins, so I can't be too sure if Deaver just put a lot of research into it or if this was just paying attention to a good friend and copying a lot of their mannerisms for the book—but the end result is a queer Muslim who wears a hijab, uses they/them pronouns, comes from a supportive family, talks about issues the queer community face, and overall just has a lot of tact in their use. Like, at one point, Ben makes a move to hug them and falters because they suddenly can't remember if that's haram (a term used in Islam for stuff that's forbidden). Islam gets a lot of shit, not just from idiots that claim they're all terrorists, but idiots that want to insist everyone under Islam is oppressed and brainwashed—but Islam and it's practices, like most (if not all) religions, have a lot of complexity in them, and it's mainly up to the practitioners to choose how they practice them. Even the sweet Muslim couple that pop up on my Instagram reels from time to time talking at breakneck speed, get tons of comments of people debating their religion, even as they explain how they truly practice the religion. By all this, I just mean that it's nice to see a thought-out, relatively-rounded Muslim character. I think they deserved a bit more characterization, more time in the book, and I have a few complaints about some of the scenes they were in—but to my knowledge and in my opinion, Mariam's character as a whole were not any of the issues.
THINGS COUNTING AGAINST:
—Meleika and Sophia, Jesus Christ. I've ranted about them enough, but really, just disappointing.
—Ben also should've bonded with Thomas properly—like, at any point, I feel like they should've had some one-on-one time where Ben gets to know the man that's been married to their sister, Thomas starts to genuinely look at them like a younger sibling. You know—bonding shit. I kinda wish that had happened.
—The phrase: I wish you all the best. Like, I get what Deaver was going for, but… that's not something a boy in love with a friend, and learning about all they've been going through with their anxiety, and getting disowned by their parents, and all that jazz, says. That's like, something you say when you're saying goodbye to someone—I kept waiting for the phrase to come up, thinking it was going to be a heartfelt goodbye, thinking that Nathan would leave for college after a brief romance with Ben, and Ben would be devastated, but will have decided there's so much room for hope and love in this world and their time together has improved their life, and they embrace in front of the airport, and Nathan looks them in the eyes, kisses them, and says, "…I'm gonna miss you, Ben—and whatever happens from here, I wish you all the best." I thought we were getting something bittersweet, because that's what the phrase seemed to indicate. Now, I'm happy we got a happy ending, it just felt like, too happy for what I was expecting, you know?
—I think the book actually focused too much on Ben's romance with Nathan. Don't get me wrong—I'm all for the romance, Ben deserves to be happy, and I'm psyched about their relationship, because all things considered, it is pretty sweet—but it doesn't feel like Ben actually has much outside of Nathan. They deserved a happy ending with their sister, and their new brother-in-law, now like his parents, and they deserved closure, and friends the reader could actually care about. The focus on Nathan in the ending actually bothered me—like, Ben knows what they want to do with their life, but it comes so quickly, it's not really something the reader will even find themselves wanting that bad. It just made me kinda sad—Ben's happy ending deserved more than a (admittedly cute) boyfriend, and an honestly kinda outta place beach day. I feel like there was something more meaningful that could've been used for the whole scene—like, maybe, Ben Nathan are out in the quad, before graduation, having a sweet moment and reflecting on their time together before Meleika and Sophie come up and are like, 'yo, graduation???? Get your ass in gear, we're gonna be late, you can make out later???' It also would've been a good place to infodump about Ben's plans for the future—not through their internal monologue, or as the narrator, but in a dialogue, discussing the future with their boyfriend.
—This is going to sound like the complete opposite of the above point, but I don't feel like Ben's crush warranted the reactions it actually got. Like, at one point, Mariam remarks that they're "completely in love", but Ben really hasn't acted in love. They've actually been pretty normal. Like, with the idea that they're friends, I could see Mariam being like, 'you got a big crush on him,' but Ben just… spends time with him, and paints him once. They're not making an idiot of themselves in front of him, they're not flirting with him, they're not even the first to admit their feelings.
—I just caught this towards the end, so it's definitely a bit more nit-picky, but Ben says that they "like the way it sounds on Nathan's lips" which sounds super romantic, but this is in the context of the word person. Like, it could've been the my part, which would've been infinitely better, but there's nothing romantic about the word "person." Person is just person. If Deaver did intend for it to be more of the my, bit, I feel like they could've clarified it a bit better, because like… it just comes off as narm-y. (7)
—It's super fucking awesome that the main character decides what they want to do with their life is help people like them—they decide they want to do what Mariam's been doing, and be a queer advocate and stuff. That's awesome—and it had such potential to be a super powerful thing, but it kinda comes out of left field. Like, it makes sense Ben would care about queer youth, because they were a queer youth with no real support system until after they got thrown out of their house—and they make all these mentions of just how much Mariam helped them, as a friend online, how they were a source of support for them when they weren't officially out. But this book doesn't feel like it's actually about support systems. If it had focused more on the problems of being young and queer, if it had been more about found-family, if those group-therapy sessions that Ben apparently had gone to were shown, it would've made more sense. But NONE OF THAT WAS SHOWN. Ben's love of art was so centered, you'd assume that's their end-goal, that's their passion. If Deaver had showed us Ben being like, 'I want to be like Mariam. I want to be there for people who needed people like Mariam, I want to be like that.' Or, maybe Ben could've joined a GSA, or took a younger queer student under their wing, or done anything like that. I appreciate the fact that they struggled with a lot of things, and I know that most of these things are the type of things that don't fit his characterization as a socially-anxious, relatively quiet teenager—but it means that all this character development we had jam packed in apparently three months, we totally missed out on, because their relationship with their boyfriend was front and center of the story. I like a good romance, I love a good romance—but it didn't work, and I'm actually a little frustrated that if we were going to get this massive change in Ben's life, we didn't actually get to see the change it brought about. I wanted to see this fucker get the courage to step out of the house with nail polish on for the first time! To correct someone when they use the wrong pronouns! Make them throw up in their anxiety, make them panic, but make them brave. We didn't get to witness that struggle, we didn't get to witness that bravery—we get a happy ending with none of the fight, and I'm stoked the LGBTQ+ community can get these happy endings we needed… but it felt so hollow.
I... really wanted to like this book.
I wanted to like this book so bad, it hurt. But I realized something, maybe around the time Ben got to their first therapy appointment, something that's probably biased me against this book.
That's probably the lamest reason to not like a book--but I picked this up in the story, and I saw a nonbinary main character, and I had this (admittedly stupid) idea in my head that this was the book. Not just the book Deaver needed, but the book I needed. I have this weight on my shoulders and chest that are crushing me, squeezing the breath of my lungs, and for some reason, I thought this was a book with a main character that could look up at me through the words, pressed into my lap and say, Me too. And I didn't get it--so, I'm sitting here in Ben's appointment, and it's going great--and they can afford therapy, and their family (their real family, in Hannah and Thomas) supports them getting therapy, and their therapist is super cool. I'm over here, my insurance is running out, and it's stupid because insurance is the only way I can afford my therapy, and I can barely click with the therapists I do get to see, or the good ones move on to places my insurance won't cover, and I have two months before I need to apply again, and I'm pulling out my hair, trying to figure out what's wrong with me, and I'm so angry I think, 'tch, who needs a therapist anyway? I don't need anybody. I'm fine alone,' but I don't want to be alone. I'm sitting here, waiting to see the pain of love and loss, I want to see someone struggle, I want someone to make a snide comment about therapy, I want to see Hannah be like, 'why the Hell is this so expensive?', I want to watch someone hit rock bottom and do something fucking stupid, like wasting all their money on an event they knew they shouldn't have gone to, I want to think, for one moment, I'm not alone, and I want my happy ending, and I don't get it.
...So, uh... let's hope I get a chance to work through all that before my insurance is up and I can no longer afford a therapist!
Now, with all this, my honest rating of the book...
Here's the thing with all forms of art--it's never gonna be perfect. Perfection is a subjective thing, and despite the book's flaws--if you're looking for a good queer novel, and you want something easy to read with a happy ending, this is probably a good book for you! And even though I didn't like it, and I think this book is mediocre--it's a pretty big deal that the queer community can even have mediocre stories, let alone a mediocre story where the main character gets a happy ending and realizes they're worthy of love. That's huge. I'm bitter, I'm biased--but I don't want that to blind me, and at the end of the day, this book is fine, and I hope--more than anything--that Deaver's given somebody out there what they need, even if that somebody's just Deaver themself. Now, I'm not sure about the whole 'saving lives' thing, but... what's that saying? That you should set out to save at least one person in your life, and it's okay if that one person's yourself? I wish Mason Deaver all the best, even if this book ain't the best.
1) I am deeply, deeply ashamed that I have yet to kick my bad habit of assigning genders based on appearance—and in the QUEER section, no less
2) "Authoritarian" is often confused with "authoritative." Authoritative, though, is the much gentler take—where rules are explained instead of just "because I said so", and children are taught how to self-soothe and handle their emotions instead of suppress them. Authoritarian is the strict, cold "I am the boss, you are the kid, I don't need to apologize for anything" society is slowly leaning away from. Basically—authoritarian is, most likely, your parents, and for this story, Ben's.
3) I could also be dead wrong. I just know my high school's really into football, and every high school on TV's always been really into football—I've never been into sports that much, anyways, aside from the occasional UFC fight night, so it's totally possible I'm just severely outta the loop of high school sports, feel free to tell me what sports your high school was into!
4) I wrote all of this before the Colorado Springs shooting. Yeah.
5) I know in another post (I just can't remember which one) I said that I was both white and Mexican—I choose to identify as both because it's acknowledging my Mexican heritage while also understanding that like, I am white, and I have that privilege that comes with it. I can learn my Spanish and make tamales while still acknowledging that I'm much less likely to be killed in a traffic stop, or suspected of selling/using drugs.
6) I really don't think you can find one twitch in somebody's hand and decide for sure that they were about to slap someone—I don't even think I can catch a twitch like that, because my paranoia and fear is outweighed by stupidity and obliviousness—especially in the case of a parent that Ben's so sure never hit either of his kids up until this moment, but it's not exactly the realism of the moment, and whether or not it could happen. In the context of the story, it did happen, and it's meaningful.
7) Lesson time! Narm's a super cool word, I learned it from TVTropes, which can put this way better than I can—but essentially, it's when something that's supposed to come off as serious flops and is way more humorous than intended, and the Trope Namer was a scene where someone complained of having a numb arm, kept repeating it until they could only say "narm" and then flopped over in what was supposed to be a super serious scene, where you were supposed to worry for the character. My favorite example of Narm is towards the end of my favorite game ever The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess where you fight off against who's been the main antagonist for most of the game, Zant, and he's an evil, formidable tyrant who's killed many and will absolutely kill you—and he spends the fight stomping around, shrieking, and jumps around like a hyperactive toddler on Red Bull when you beat him, while still screaming. I mean, Narm's subjective and Zant's probably my favorite TLoZ villain, but I think it's hilarious, and I don't know if that was the intention.
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