A lot of the comments I’ve seen on this book mentions that it is “like a guy version of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before“, and I guess there’s some truth to that. It’s also a coming-out story, which may annoy the few I know who want queer YA to move beyond coming-out stories. I think it’s good that there are more DIFFERENT kinds of queer fiction for young adults now, but I also think that there’s always room for more coming-out stories, especially when it deals with a character learning more about themselves, because it’s different for every person.
In this book, for example, James Liddell feels as if he lives a pretend life. There is the James Liddell he becomes when he’s with his friends and family, and then there is this other person – kinder, more thoughtful, more observant, more himself – who only seems to exist within the letters that he writes to the people in his life, letters that he would never send. This James Liddell knows that he is attracted to boys, but even in the letters, he never states it clearly.
He’s afraid of being treated differently if people knew. He’s afraid that his friends might turn on him. He’s afraid of losing his girlfriend, because even though he isn’t attracted to her, he does love her, and want her in his life. He makes decisions that are sometimes stupid, or selfish, or both, but most of the time I just want to hug him because he’s so MISERABLE and he thinks that there is no way out of the box he’d let others put him in. This part reminds me of Benjamin Alire Saenz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, because it touches on masculinity and the pressure to perform, to be a certain type of person, and how damaging it is when the person you had to be for others is so different from the person you are. I wished this bit is explored more, but I do appreciate that it is there. But of course, someone finds his letters and mails them one day, and all hell breaks loose.
James’ pretense doesn’t last long, because of course someone finds his letters – and mails them. As far as repercussions go, it isn’t that bad, and James does manage to confront the bad things to find the good. I have to say that I really love his friendship with Topher, and the fact that everyone seems to ship them is hilarious. And as far as the similarities with Jenny Han’s more popular novel go, it’s just on the surface – I find that the two are more like a burger and a milkshake – they’re both good, and good together, but one is savoury and the other is sweet. And this book? It’s the meat.
Note: I received my copy from Harper International through work.