I’ve had this one on my TBR for awhile. I have never read anything by a non-binary person before, at least, not someone openly identifying as non-binary. And, for me, that is what reading is for – to learn and grow and see from perspectives that are not my own.
“If you’re queer, your life has the potential to be one long coming-out moment.”
Ben De Backer is a senior in high school when they come out to their parents as non-binary and are kicked out of the house. With nowhere to go, they call their sister, a sister they haven’t seen in ten years, and she and her husband take Ben in. Ben decides to ride under the radar for the last little bit of high school, coming out to just their sister, her husband, and their therapist, while struggling with anxiety and the rejection of their parents. But what Ben doesn’t count on is making friends at their new school, an art teacher who supports and helps them with creative outlet, and finding a support network that just might help them own who they truly are.
This book starts with a massive punch to the gut, with negative emotions of all kinds (from anguish to anger and everything in between), running amok. It was so incredibly hard to read about Ben’s bravery in coming out to their parents ending in them being homeless and alone and outside in the middle of winter without shoes! And I know, I do know, that so many LGBTQ+ youth face this (and I too live in NC, where this story takes place, and I’ve seen how awful people down here can be), but honestly, there’s nothing like reading something in detail (other than actually experiencing it, obviously) to really make it feel real. It was heartbreaking. And I appreciated the reality the author wrote with, as far as Ben’s perspective is concerned. There are no easy fixes, fast emotional recoveries, big turnarounds, or anything of the sort. Deaver pulls no punches as far as Ben’s feelings, reactions and mental health go. It’s handled with all the maturity one could/should expect of a teenager, one who is dealing with really intense things (and doing an amazing job with it, all things considered) and still doesn’t yet have the coping mechanisms to healthfully deal with everything they’re going through. It’s slow-going and at times frustrating for both the reader and Ben (with setback from all angles, including, because they clearly hadn’t done enough damage, Ben’s parents, and some pent-up feelings about their sister leaving years ago, despite her efforts to help them now). But it rings true in a very important way.
Yet at the same time, there is so much hope still, not least that Ben is young and has a chance to move forward and move on and grow into their own true self, that Ben’s sister and brother-in-law are so willing to try and be the support they need. But even greater than that, at least in Ben’s world, is their new friend, Nathan. I want a Nathan. Like, I have a serious book crush on this funny, light-up-the-room guy that also loves reading (all genres!) and writing papers and has his own secrets. Be still my freaking heart! He’s the perfect new friend for Ben, pushing them out of their comfort zone but also being totally willing to bail and aid if it legitimately becomes too much. And, it wouldn’t be the heartwarming, coming-of-age, coming-out, YA story that it is without a little first love romance – so get your feels ready to transform from sadness and anger into happy tears and fuzzy hearts. Plus, on a personal note, this book takes place mostly in Raleigh, NC, and I live about 30 minutes from Raleigh, so it was cool to recognize some of the events and locations mentioned throughout the book!
Overall, this novel was beautifully relatable, felt so fully real, addressed some truly difficult topics in a gorgeous way, and was incredibly educational. There’s a blurb review on the front cover from Becky Albertalli that says “This book will save lives.” and I cannot think of anything more true. This is the type of book that any non-binary, queer or questioning youth needs, to know they’re not alone and that there are people who do and will love them in this world. And it’s the type of book that any cis youth needs, to help them learn how to be understanding in a genuinely supportive way. It’s a book I wish I’d had when I was younger, and am now approaching in a better late than never way, as far as the best way to be a sincere ally. There are, of course, no true road maps to life, but this book is a fantastic guideline, and I deeply recommend it.
P.S. – I, like Nathan, am learning, with pronouns and vocabulary and understanding. So please, tell me if anything I’ve said in this review isn’t worded right, and know that I meant no purposeful offense or harm, and that I too am a work in progress.