Queer YA Review: What If It’s Us

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TitleWhat If It’s Us by Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli

Rating: 5/5

Two-sentence summary: Arthur’s summer trip to New York City wasn’t supposed to turn into a meet-cute romance, but when he and Ben bump into each other at the post office, he feels like he’s living in the Broadway musicals he always dreamed of. But does the universe really have a love story planned, or will separations, misunderstandings, and an eventual move back to Georgia put an end to their relationship?

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Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: What If It’s Us is a queer YA romance between two cis gay men. There are also several LGBTQ minor characters, including an ex-boyfriend and a queer female coworker. Heads up that there’s a brief, but intense aggressive scene in the novel—while the characters involved aren’t physical harmed, they do face homophobic insults and threats of violence.

What I loved: Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli are some of my favorite LGBTQ YA authors, and their writing styles meshed perfectly in What If It’s Us. Arthur and Ben both have unique voices and personalities throughout the novel, and their thoughts and feelings are distinct in ways that make them a cute match. With Arthur, you have the optimistic, yet anxious “first love” voice, which complements Ben’s recently-broken-up-and-somewhat-cynical voice well. Their differences make for some awkward, yet entertaining and all-around wholesome moments that capture the title’s feeling. Their budding romance is uncertain, yet hopeful that they’ve finally met “the one” in the way that all relationships start.

This book also features minor themes that adds depth to their story and relationship. It touches on race and privilege through Ben, a white-passing Puerto Rican who feels alienated because others don’t recognize his heritage. Not only does the story validate Ben’s insecurities, but it also check and helps him recognize his privilege as someone who is white-passing. I also loved how it featured mental health themes through Arthur’s discussion of ADHD and another character who’s hospitalized for a panic attack. It made the characters and their lived experience feel all the more real and brought up points worth talking about.

Also, I loved the male friendships portrayed in this book! You don’t always see that in queer YA, but it’s so needed to feature platonic friendships between gay characters and members of the same sex. Both Arthur and Ben have male friends who they feel close to without experiencing romantic attraction. I also appreciated how What If It’s Us explored the complexities of said relationships, however, like how they can change when someone comes out or whether it’s possible to stay friends with your ex-boyfriend. All common experiences that don’t always have a spot in YA fiction, but should.

The only thing I’m frustrated about is (slight spoiler) the fairly ambiguous ending, but I think that shows how well-developed Arthur, Ben, and their relationship was. And having an open ending made What If It’s Us mirror real life while still retaining that excitement, hope, and unlimited possibilities that the story began on. Their relationship in general, from first meet to the end of the novel, developed naturally despite the coincidences and sheer luck that brought the two together. Keeping a foot grounded in reality while still exploring ideas of “love at first sight” and “destined to meet” helps their story feel extraordinary without seeming melodramatic.

This was such a cute book—cute characters, cute story, and cute cover art as well. Plus, I’ve been a sucker for Dear Evan Hansen ever since a friend introduced it to me in college, so the title drew me in pretty fast. Arthur is a big musical theater fan, so if you are as well, this book’s for you. Especially if you like Hamilton, as you may find references to it and its fandom pretty amusing.

Quote: “I barely know him. I guess that’s any relationship. You start with nothing and maybe end with everything.”

Recommended: What If It’s Us is one of the happiest LGBTQ YA novels I’ve ever read! It’s a story where you read it and feel all warm and hopeful inside after you’ve finished it, like the people we meet and form relationships with matter regardless of how much time we spend with them. If you’re looking for an uplifting, wholesome queer love story, you’ve gotta check this one out. Doubly so if you like stories about missed connections, musicals, and first love.

Note: I received an ARC copy of this novel in exchange for a fair review.

Queer YA Book Review: Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger

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TitleParrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger

Rating: 3/5

Two-sentence summary: When Grady comes out as transgender, the backlash from his friends, family, and school overwhelms him. But as he meets friends (and maybe a first love) who see him as he is, he finds the strength to fight for acceptance.

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Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: This book’s main character is a straight, teenage trans man. While he begins the story using a female name and pronouns, Parrotfish follows him as he accepts his identity and begins transitioning at the start of his junior year. It also features discussion of sexual orientation versus gender identity.

Review: Fun fact: this was the first book I ever read about a trans person, back when I was thirteen years old in 2011. I didn’t recognize that I was transgender until a few years later, but I remember reading about Grady’s experience and thinking to myself, “I’m just like this person. I wish I was a boy, too.” It was a key book for me in recognizing feelings I had about my gender and because of that, it holds a special place in my heart. Plus, it’s just a cute book in general with a loveable, courageous protagonist.

One critique, however, is that this book phrases Grady’s identity more as a “girl who wants to be a boy” than a trans man. That’s part of the reason, I think, I didn’t realize I was trans then. I remembered it more about a girl who felt like a boy than a boy born in the wrong body. It was not likely the author’s intention, but I think portraying trans people like that could spread misinformation about what gender identity means. Wittlinger also refers to Grady as “transgendered,” which is a dated and, depending on the trans person, sometimes offensive term (though it may not have been as outdated when the book as written).

Grady also engages in some unsafe transitioning practices—particularly using Ace bandages to bind his chest, which can cause bruised or cracked ribs and long-term breathing issues. The safe way to bind is using a chest binder or kinesiology tape, either of which would have been better options to portray when writing for teens. I understand why the author wrote this, as this was published eleven years ago when binders weren’t as common and even then, lots of trans people who can’t afford them still use Ace bandages. That being said, I think if a young trans guy read this, it could give him harmful ideas about binding. Maybe not the biggest complaint for a story, but something I felt concerned about since it’s a YA novel.

That being said, Parrotfish is also heartwarming and spreads a message of unconditional love and acceptance, which is groundbreaking considering its older publication date. It was written in a time when very little about trans acceptance was talked about in the media or mainstream queer community, let alone YA fiction. It probably helped a lot of young trans teens, myself included, come to terms with their identity and feel less different or alone. Overall, a sweet and uplifting story written when trans identities were seen differently than they are now.

Quote: “You can only lie about who you are for so long without going crazy.”

Recommended: This is one of the oldest trans YA books (2007) that I’ve been able to find, and the oldest in general about a trans man. It tells a compelling story and has a positive message for both trans teens and those unfamiliar with the trans community. But because of the way trans identities are portrayed and some unsafe transitioning practices, I feel like this is a good introductory book for people just learning about the trans community but not the ideal first book for trans teens.

Queer YA Review: Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee

 

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Title: Tash Hearts Tolstoy

Author: Kathryn Ormsbee

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: When Tash Zelenka’s “Unhappy Families,” a modern webseries adaptation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, goes viral and is nominated for a Golden Tuba award, she becomes friends (and maybe something more) with fellow Tuba nominee Thom Causer. But how can she explain to her budding crush—or anyone else—that she’s asexual?

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Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: This book features a heteroromantic asexual protagonist. Asexuality is something I still have a lot to learn about, but just for others who might not know the difference between asexuality and aromanticism: asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction to others, and aromanticism is the lack of romantic attraction. Because I’m not asexual, I don’t know if I can comment on whether it’s an accurate portrayal but have seen generally positive reviews from the ace community. There is also a queer male relationship, but it’s not the main focus of the novel.

What I loved: Every character in Tash Hearts Tolstoy felt vibrant and alive, even minor characters that don’t get more than a few scenes in the novel. You can’t always say that, especially since too much backstory can sometimes weigh down a novel, but it really gave this one depth. It felt like dipping into someone’s memories of the summer before their senior year rather than just a simple YA romance. In terms of the romantic plot itself, that, too, was more complex than I thought it would be—a happy surprise. I didn’t expect the characters’ reactions to Tash’s identity, nor their internalized emotions, to happen as they did. Without spoiling the story, the romantic heart of the story doesn’t turn out as you think it will but still ends in a satisfying way.

And while I don’t identify as asexual, I have seen several reviews from ace readers that said reading this book was like stepping into light after a long time in the dark. It was also useful on a personal level because it helped me understand more about ace identities and complexities that happen when a romantic asexual person goes into a relationship with a non-ace person. Whether you’re familiar with the ace community or not, it’s an insightful and comprehensive portrayal without weighing the text down with paragraphs of explanations.

Quote: “If you want a chance at being happy, exist. Because yes, life can suck, but as long as you’re alive, there’s a chance you can be happy.”

Recommended: This was such a delightful story! I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a cute, quirky novel with plenty of diverse queer identities. And, of course, if you’re a fan of literary webseries like The Lizzie Bennett Diaries or (my personal favorite) Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Invite Only Casual Dinner Party / Gala For Friends Potluck, this also explores the “other side” of producing one—dealing with melodramatic actors, reacting to negative reviews, and managing a sudden tsunami wave of fame. It’s so wholesome, guys!

Monthly Wrap-Up, October 2018

Hey, friends! While planning some upcoming queer YA books to review on this blog, I thought about how there are a ton of non-queer (or even non-YA) books I read that are still notable and worth sharing. I don’t want to shift the focus of my reviews, but I do want to spotlight some of those books each month and give a paragraph review about the notable parts for others who might want to read it. So without further ado, here’s a few books I read and enjoyed last month:

YA:

  • Looking for Alaska by John Green: Several of my friends have called this their favorite John Green book, and I think it’s my favorite now, too, even though it made me tear up at parts. It’s just one of those books that proves YA fiction can be just as literary and meaningful as adult fiction. And even though it has heartbreaking moments, it’s got some seriously funny scenes, too. Also, it had one of the most powerful YA fiction lines I’ve ever read: “Thomas Edison’s last words were ‘It’s very beautiful over there.’ I don’t know where there is, but I believe it’s somewhere, and I hope it’s beautiful.”
  • Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone: This one’s about Sam, a junior who has purely-obsessional OCD, as she discovers the Poetry Corner and her high school and makes friends who understand what it’s like to feel alone. As someone with pure-O OCD, I was really excited to find this book. Mental illness has received a lot more understanding over the past few decades, but I think there are still some misconceptions about OCD. Every Last Word felt like an authentic story about one person’s struggle with OCD without letting that define her. It has a lot of sad, vulnerable moments but is overall a hopeful book.
  • Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne: Even if you’ve never thought about the potential a sci-fi Jane Eyre would have, Brightly Burning doesn’t disappoint. It’s just as emotionally intense and enticing as the original novel, except with a slightly more sympathetic Mr. Rochester. And it ends a little more hopefully than the original, too. Which is kind of a bonus. If you’re more of a classic literature fan but are trying to venture into the YA genre, this could be a fun choice since it actually translates the original plot and characters into a futuristic setting pretty well. Also, I don’t think the author plans on making a Wuthering Heights in space next, but man do I want it a lot now.
  • A Short History of the Girl Next Door by Jared Reck: A Short History follows freshman Matt Wainwright as he copes with his first unrequited crush and brings his emotional turmoil into his high school basketball court. This book was, above all, two things: sad and sweet. It’s full of unrequited love, loss, and uncertainty in the future that I think everyone feels at some point. It actually kind of reminded me of a younger teen version of Looking for Alaska in that it struggles to answer similar questions about why life can be so hard sometimes and whether there’s meaning in the pain.
  • Crank by Ellen Hopkins: Reading Crank was a meaningful experience because, growing up, I wasn’t allowed to read books by Ellen Hopkins. Considering that Hopkins’ books are some of the most banned and challenged YA books in print, I’m probably not the only one. Following Kristina from her beginning as a shy, emotionally-neglected teenager into a meth addict was harrowing. It was emotionally powerful experience to read how drug addiction can take away a person’s innocence, self-control, and ability to feel happy at all, even when high. After reading it, I felt sick to my stomach, but I didn’t regret reading it. This seems like a book that could either help teens have compassion for someone with struggles different from their own or help those with drug addictions feel heard and find hope.

Miscellaneous:

  • Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard: Maybe it’s all of that The Good Place I’ve been watching lately, but I’ve felt motivated lately to study philosophy more in hopes that it will help me become a kinder person and find stronger meaning in life. This book presented some interesting thoughts, especially the idea that faith begins when you step away from reason and trust in something, even though you’re afraid. It also discusses the difference between resignation and faith, the first being sorrow when confronted with seeming hopelessness and the second being trust in the infinite despite your fears.
  • That We May Be One by Tom Christofferson: In case you’re not as familiar with Mormon culture, this one is a memoir written by a brother of one of the church’s apostles who identifies as both gay and Mormon. It was powerful to follow his journey in life as he followed his heart and drew closer to God in a way that felt right to him. Being gay and spiritual can be hard, and this felt like a book that could help queer Mormons struggling to accept their sexual orientation feel like they are loved just as they are and belong in their religion.
  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner: One of my professors recommended that we read this one at least once in our life. It was pretty enjoyable, considering the pretty dark subject matter! I especially liked the stream-of-consciousness narrative and felt like it worked well for what he was trying to achieve. It places you firmly into each character’s mind and makes their thoughts and emotions feel distinct. For some reason, though, I think I like his short stories a lot more than I liked this novel. Probably just a personal thing.

And, just to keep up with what’s going on in my life, here are some notable things that happened this month:

  • Finally found a job! I’m starting a technical writer position at The Waterford Institute next week and am super grateful to be working for a company that promotes a love of learning.
  • Played Kingdom Hearts I and II for the middle school nostalgia factor. Currently trying to figure out if there’s a phone app that would let me play 358/2.
  • Tons and tons of thunderstorms. As I’m writing this, it’s super cloudy and stormy outside. It looks like a perfect day to curl up by a window with a cup of apple cider and a book.
  • Got to see my boyfriend perform at the opening night for Evermore, an interactive fantasy park in Northern Utah. Super proud of him for working hard to pursue what he loves and for being a very spooky zombie.
  • Spent a lot of time in Park City. The leaves are starting to change color up there and it’s really beautiful, like the personification of a pumpkin spice candle.
  • Took some time to catch up on all of my favorite podcasts while cleaning, especially Beautiful/Anonymous, Modern Love, and Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. If you guys have any podcast recommendations, by the way, I’d love to check out some new ones!

Any book recommendations for November’s book haul?

LGBTQ YA Review: Devil and the Bluebird by Jennifer Mason-Black

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Title: Devil and the Bluebird

Author: Jennifer Mason-Black

Rating: 3.5/5

Two-sentence summary: After losing her mother to cancer, Blue Riley makes a deal with the devil to find her runaway sister Cass. With the help of her mother’s guitar and a pair of boots that lead her to her heart’s longing, she embarks on a journey with both temptation and hope waiting on every corner.

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Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: This book featured several prominent queer characters. What I loved about it was how seamlessly the author weaved their LGBTQ identities into the story without making it a major plot point. Being queer affected, of course, who they were as characters and how they acted, but it didn’t consume their identities. Without spoiling anything by mentioning the character’s name, I especially enjoyed the depiction of a gay trans character, maybe because trans characters are generally portrayed as straight in queer YA and I like that we’re seeing some diverse identities within the genre. And, of course, as a queer trans guy, it felt validating to see an identity like mine portrayed in a book—everyone deserves to feel that.

What I loved: For whatever reason, one of my favorite Halloween songs when I was a kid was “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, possibly because it had two good things: a spooky and compelling story and a good rhythm. Devil and the Bluebird mirrors the Southern Gothic feel of that song, with the rhythm coming in the beautifully-crafted imagery. In some ways, this novel captures the essence of a folk song. Its core story of a girl named Blue betting her soul against the devil for her sister may be fantastical, but the emotions and characters feel so real that it’s devastating at times. Even minor characters are described so well that they click perfectly with the plot and make the entire novel feel purposeful in every word it uses.

Quote: “Remember that the devil is the one who tells you to play a tune that’s not your own, and you can drive him right on out into the cold by playing what’s in your soul.”

Recommended: It’s getting close to Halloween, and if you’re looking for queer YA with a fairly spooky plot, this book is for you. And if you’re looking for an artfully-written novel with diverse, lifelike characters and a bittersweet story, you’ll find that here, too.

Twitter, Job Searching, and Other Mini Life Updates

Hello, friends! When I posted that The Inexplicable Logic of My Life review yesterday, it occurred to me that I hadn’t posted a personal update in a while. So much has changed since graduating college in August that I think writing everything would devolve into a mess of rambles and exclamation points, so here are a few things going on right now in a neat bullet list form:

  • I got a Twitter—this time for real! It’s @andyjwinder, if you’re interested. Twitter is something I tried a few times in the past but I’ve heard it’s great for networking in the YA publishing world and memes, so I’m giving it another go. I’m still trying to get the hang of it but would love to connect with more awesome, literary (or meme-y) people!
  • All of the time I used to spend studying is now devoted to applying and interviewing for jobs. I never thought I’d find something more exciting and anxiety-provoking than walking to the testing center during finals week, but here we are. I just keep telling myself “this is why I got my bachelor in English, this is what I’ve been training for, it’ll be alright” and so on. And then I cry a little, just on the inside. But so far, so good and I’m feeling pretty optimistic!
  • During my last semester of college, I took a break from long-term creative writing projects to finish my senior thesis but am getting back into the swing of things and working on a new novel draft! It’s still very rough but it’s YA and features (among other things) baking competitions, a character named Rose who is a lot less delicate than her namesake, and a nice queer romance. Going for that “wholesome and uplifting” feel to counterbalance all the sad (but still beautiful) queer YA out there.
  • Last year at Pride, I wanted more than anything to have someone to share my life with and wondered if I was broken because I’d never had a partner or even a first kiss before. And this past week, I got to attend Provo Pride with my boyfriend. It’s funny how different life can become in a year. I feel lucky to know and spend time with someone as silly, thoughtful, and sweet as he is and happy that we found each other.
  • And, best for last, I finally found the music that really sparks my drive while writing fiction, and it’s folk music. On a related note, I have been listening to way too much Hozier lately.

That’s a little bit about what my life’s looking at right now. Hectic, sometimes a little less clear-cut than my life in university used to be, but overall bright!

LGBTQ YA Review: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

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Title: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life

Author: Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Rating: 4.5/5

Two-sentence summary: When unexpected events throw seventeen-year-old Sal and his best friend Samantha’s lives into tragedy, they rely on Sal’s adoptive gay father to confront their grief. As they finish their senior year of high school together, they find that even in times of great loss, the people you love can help you find faith in the future.

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Portrayal of LGBTQ issues: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life deals with themes of fatherhood and the influence parents have on who you become. Sal never knew his biological father and, as grief brings out his impulsive temper, worries that he’ll take after whoever he was instead of his adoptive father. Other characters also comment about his adoptive father’s sexuality and Mexican heritage in ways that causes Sal, a white, straight teenage boy, wonder whether the father who raised him or his biological parents determine his identity. This book doesn’t give any easy answers but shows that, above all, family is who you love and loves you in return.

What I loved: One of my favorite queer YA books as a teenager was Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by the same author (which I should get around to reviewing as well) because of its beautiful descriptions. This book does not disappoint. The language Sáenz uses for his imagery and dialogue is almost like reading poetry in prose form. The Inexplicable Logic of My Life also It’s one of those books that proves YA can be just as well-written and thought provoking as literary fiction.

I also loved that this book’s priority is capturing Sal and Sam’s friendship without trying to force anything romantic from developing. Their relationship is so strong and well-developed that working in anything more than platonic love would feel forced, in this situation. And it’s a lovely portrayal of a healthy friendship between two people of the opposite gender that feels a little lacking in YA fiction sometimes. Plus, if you’re looking for romance, you do get some of that from Sal’s father as he reconciles with his ex-boyfriend so this book really does have it all.

Quote: “All your life I’ve tried to protect you from all the shit in the world, from all the bad things. But I can’t protect you from this… All I have is a shoulder. And that will have to do. When you were a little boy, I used to carry you. I miss those days sometimes. But those days are over. I can walk beside you, Salvie—but I can’t carry you.”

Recommended: If you love stories that make you think, smile, and cry all in one, I’d recommend The Inexplicable Logic of My Life. Because the book features a straight protagonist but has strong LGBTQ themes, I think this book could also help non-LGBTQ teens relate to and understand queer issues a little more than they did before.

Next: What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

YA Review: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

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Title: We Are Okay

Author: Nina LaCour

Rating: 3.5/5

Two-sentence summary: Grief-stricken and alone, Marin plans to spend her winter break at her college in New York instead of her hometown in California. But when loved ones from her past come to visit, she is forced to face what happened between her and her best friend Mabel last summer.

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What I loved: There are so many unhappy LGBTQ YA books out there that you’d think there’d be nothing special about another sad, queer story. We Are Okay, however, manages to paint a fresh and distinct portrait of discovering yourself in the wake of grief. I especially loved how normalized the queer subplot was in this book. Although it was a key part of Marin’s identity and her past, she wasn’t reduced to her queerness nor was it portrayed as a “shock value” reveal. It’s much more about Marin confronting the loss of someone important in her life than it is coping with her sexuality. And I think that’s really beautiful that we’re getting to a point where a character can be queer without the story revolving around that.

Quote: “It’s a dark place, not knowing. It’s difficult to surrender to.  But I guess it’s where we live most of the time. I guess it’s where we all live, so maybe it doesn’t have to be so lonely. Maybe I can settle into it, make a home inside uncertainty.”

Recommended: This is a quick read so I’d recommend it for a weekend where you want to just spend a few hours in Marin’s head as she makes peace with her past. I like how this book features LGBTQ characters without making the plot revolve around their identities, so if you want a book with characters, We Are Okay is a good choice.

Next: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

LGBTQ MG Review: One True Way by Shannon Hitchcock

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Title: One True Way

Author: Shannon Hitchcock

Rating: 4/5

Two-sentence summary: It’s 1977, and twelve year old Allie and her grieving family move to the South following the death of her brother Eric. When Allie meets the smart and courageous Sam on her first day at Daniel Boone Middle School, she begins to question her faith and her sexuality in her conservative small town.

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What I loved: This book is a charming story that I think many LGBTQ people, regardless of age or era they grew up in, can relate to. Because Allie’s just beginning her journey to understanding her sexual orientation, she is filled with questions about what it means to follow your heart, even if other people don’t like you for it. Throughout the novel, she struggles to balance her need to belong with her need for understanding in a small town that doesn’t have any easy answers for her. It’s hopeful in a way that doesn’t gloss over the tough parts about being queer and emphasizes the importance of finding a way to live authentically with yourself.

Although her and Sam’s journey is tough, she finds support and comfort from people she can trust, like her church minister and her teacher Miss Holt, who is implied to be partners with the female school coach. While I don’t like to pare stories down to a single “take-away” message, I think it’s important to remind young queer kids that they don’t have to figure everything out alone. Figuring things out is a lot easier with someone to confide in who won’t push you to do what isn’t right for you. Whether that’s a friend, a parent, or another person who you trust, building a support system based on people who love you unconditionally is an essential part of being queer that One True Way touches on well.

Quote: ” ‘Why do you look so serious?’ Sam asked.
I reached into my back pocket and handed her the gold yarn friendship bracelet. ‘I made it out of school colors for you. Phoebe showed me how.’
Sam slipped it onto her wrist. ‘See? A perfect fit.’
I reached out and touched her arm just above the bracelet. ‘Do you like Phoebe more than me?’ 
‘I like all my friends.’
But that wasn’t what I was asking.
Sam turned and stared directly into my eyes. ‘I don’t like anybody as much as you.’
My heart hammered so hard I could barely breathe.”

Recommended: The past few years have been wonderful for LGBTQ inclusion in middle grade fiction. I still remember when it was incredibly controversial when J.K. Rowling revealed that Albus Dumbledore is gay, so having in-story queer characters is refreshing. One True Way is a sweet story about crushes and first loves that I think, despite its historical setting, matches what a lot of LGBTQ kids still experience today. This is a perfect book for both kids who are just starting to have their own first crushes or who appreciate a good love story, despite the odds placed against it.

Next: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

YA Review: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

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Title: History is All You Left Me

Author: Adam Silvera

Rating: 4.5/5

Two-sentence summary: When Griffin’s best friend and ex-boyfriend Theo dies in a drowning accident, the only person who understands is Theo’s current boyfriend, Jackson. But between his grief and obsessive compulsive episodes, Griffin is stuck processing Theo’s loss in a history of painful memories and broken “what-ifs.”

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What I loved: Notice how that quote by Nicola Yoon on the cover says, “Will make you cry, think, and then cry some more?” That about describes the emotional waves that this book put me through. History is All You Left Me creates a great balance of thought and raw emotion. Not only does it depict Griffin’s grief following an unexpected tragedy but also how memories and relationships shape us into who we are—in good and bad ways. The pain is striking in a familiar way for those who have fallen in love with someone they eventually had to let go of.

When a relationship ends for any reason, part of yourself dies with that just as another part starts growing, and this novel tracks Griffin’s full growth as a human being from his first kiss to his resolution to love Theo, but let him go. The novel also features a complex depiction of OCD that goes beyond the “cleaning” and “organizing” compulsions in a way that more matched my own experiences with it. Not only did this make Griffin a more complex character, but it gave depth to a mental illness that is often cliched in pop culture.

Quote: “People are complicated puzzles, always trying to piece together a complete picture, but sometimes we get it wrong and sometimes we’re left unfinished. Sometimes that’s for the best. Some pieces can’t be forced into a puzzle, or at least they shouldn’t be, because they won’t make sense.”

Recommended: This is a little heavy of a read, so I would recommend this novel if you’re in a good mental “headspace.” It’s a beautiful and meaningful book, but one that could take time to process without letting it weigh you down. But as with every Adam Silvera novel I’ve read so far, perfect if you want a complex, thought-provoking queer YA book!

Next: One True Way by Shannon Hitchcock