Genre: YA/ contemporary fiction
Setting: Raleigh area, NC
I read it as a(n): paperback
Source: my daughter’s collection
Length: 329 pp
Her Grace’s rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Deaver’s novel centers 17-year-old Benjamin, a nonbinary kid living in the suburbs of Raleigh. When they finally work up the nerve to tell their parents they’re nonbinary, their parents flip the fuck out and kick them out of the house. In that instant. Without shoes or a jacket on, even though it’s winter and snowing out. Ben manages to call Hannah, their estranged older sister, who comes and gets Ben and takes them to her house. She and her husband, Thomas, a local school teacher, take Ben under their wing, get them enrolled in Thomas’s school for the last semester of high school, and get them into some therapy for the traumas caused by their parents. During all this, Ben makes new friends, including Nathan. At first, Ben thinks Nathan is a little too much but as the months pass, their feelings for him change into something else.
This book is a great look at several social issues and the impact they can have on families. Mostly the impact is brought about by intolerant, asshole parents. And crappy society. And mostly well-meaning but clueless people. Ben’s world is shattered by the way their parents treated them. They don’t feel they can be who they truly are, which is a sad state of affairs for anyone. We all want to be loved and accepted for who we truly are, not for how others want us to be. I do not have any experience similar to Ben’s but it seems like it was handled extremely well. It was visceral. I don’t know anything about the author beyond the fact that Deaver is also nonbinary, but I hope their writing doesn’t come from first-hand experience. I wish people would just be kind to each other.
I also really liked how Deaver handled Ben’s mental health. They suffer from depression, crippling anxiety, and panic attacks. At times, these manifest in an inability for Ben to say anything other than “Yeah” or “Okay,” and sometimes nothing at all. It can be really frustrating to witness that, but also understandable. I myself have been frozen in social situations before. It blows.
Now for some things I didn’t care for as much. Hannah. She’s Ben’s much older sister and she took off when she was 18. I don’t blame her for that since her and Ben’s parents seem awful. I don’t even blame her for not thinking it through when she left her number for Ben to call, not realizing that a 10 year old child wouldn’t be able to call her without their parents finding out. I DO blame her for not reaching out later, when she was older and hopefully wiser. I think just bailing out of Ben’s life like that was a shitty thing to do, especially knowing what kind of parents they had. I think it is even worse that she seems to have actually forgotten him entirely for a span of several years. I’m glad she stepped up and is able to help Ben when they need it the most, but I don’t know that it makes up much for her absence in the years preceding.
The secondary characters were kind of, well. Boring. Hannah was overbearing, Thomas was mostly a blank slate, and the school friends, even Nathan, were all sort of interchangeable to an extent.
Also, things seemed to work out remarkably well in the end. I know this is fiction and it is nice when the characters who deserve it get good things. But it also seemed simplistic and not realistic. Don’t get me wrong. I’m GLAD it worked out as it did and I think Ben deserves everything good that happened. I just also think real life rarely works that way and it didn’t set well with me for some reason. Maybe we will get to see more of Ben and company in later books that could explore more deeply. A lot of this book felt like setting up and introducing characters.
This is maybe a silly thing to nitpick, but I think the book should have had some resources included for people, especially teens, who are struggling with their gender identity, how to find safe places or mental health help, suicide crisis hotlines, and so forth. So, I will include one. One of my work friends started a nonprofit organization for helping LGBTQIA+ kids (they focus on kids ages 11-22). It is called Scaffolding Youth and is a fairly new but growing organization. It seems awesome, helpful, hopeful, and can connect kids with strong advocates.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book, even though it’s a YA and I hardly ever read YA anymore. I have too many adult books to read to go back to high school, but I read this one because my daughter asked me if I would read it. I’m trying to read more books that she reads as well so we can talk about them. But I’m glad I read this and I think it’s really important that we have books that are representative. Diversity is vital. I definitely recommend this book, and also that everyone go and find other representative and diverse books when you’re done with this one.
Also, the correct answer is waffles.