I don’t know why I requested this on NetGalley. And then, when my request was approved, I don’t know why I chose to read it before the other books I’ve been anticipating for so long. But I did request this book, with the title and synopsis that interested me somewhat, and a cover that left me cold. And I did read it. And I am so glad I did.
This book is narrated by three teenage boys – Ryan (a swimmer), Harley (a rebel), and Miles (a nerd). These boys only have one thing in common: their best friend was Isaac. As far as everyone else knew, they were a quartet. But to them, there was Isaac, and then there was them, the sidekicks. They weren’t friends with each other, and at the beginning of this book, they had no interest in being friends with each other.
The book starts with Ryan’s POV – I really enjoyed his voice. Ryan is known as the Olympic hopeful, the son of the Head of English Dept., the good kid. The other students – and some readers – might consider him as too good, perhaps. But Ryan is also gay, which is something only two other people knew. One was Todd, his secret boyfriend. The other was Isaac. With Isaac gone, and Todd breaking up with him because he wasn’t ready to come out, Ryan badly needed someone to talk to. His narrative was familiar to me, as I’ve read a lot of YA coming-out stories. I could guess how his story would end up. I liked him, and when I was reading his part, I thought I might like him best.
Then the book started on Harley’s POV, and it felt jarring at first. Harley was so unlike Ryan, and was hardly in the first part of the book. He was a boarder at the school, and was the type to party a lot, and dabbled with drugs. He didn’t truly come off as a bad sort, or even particularly misguided; he was just different. After Isaac’s death, Harley stayed under the radar, skipping school and disappearing online. He befriended Isaac’s mother. He tried to find ways to help Ryan and Miles, thinking that he was a poor stand-in for Isaac. Overall, he had the vibe of a lot of friends I had in college – well-meaning but often misunderstood.
While I liked Harley, and the direction of the story, I didn’t enjoy reading his section as much as Ryan’s. I was afraid that Ryan’s POV was going to be the best until I reached Miles’. Here’s the thing about Miles – he comes off as somewhat unlikable in the first part (Ryan’s POV), but when reading his part, I felt like I related to him 100%. The way he dealt with grief was also closer to home – while Ryan and Harley seemed to be trying to avoid talking about Isaac’s loss while trying to move on, Miles found himself watching videos of Isaac. Over and over and over again. He had previously made a short film for school starring Isaac, and while watching the cuts from the film, he thought, “Last year, I had to edit out all the filler between takes. Now the filler is all I want.” I understood that perfectly.
I loved the character development for all three of these young men. I loved how they slowly took steps towards a real friendship. It was a little amusing reading Miles’ monologues on why he shouldn’t want to be friends with Harvey, contrasted with how the more he knew Harvey, the more admirable Harvey became to him. It was nice seeing Harvey being the one to really bring them together, stepping into the void Isaac left in the group. I also really appreciated the three very distinct voices and styles in the POVs; it was impossible to mistake any of them for one another. I love, love, LOVE Miles’ parents, and their conversations with him. I love Ryan’s mom and how she isn’t just completely supportive of him; she’s a good teacher. When a student said that something an exam paper was “so gay” in class, she responds:
“I don’t understand. Do you mean it’s a lighthearted, merry exam paper? Or is it attracted to exam papers of the same sex? …I’m hoping you don’t mean it’s pointless, boring and no fun, because for that, there are perfectly good words like pointless, boring and no fun. When you equate the way someone loves to something you don’t like, you betray your limited vocabulary, which deeply offends me as head of English, and you harm your peers who may not love the way you do.”
TL;DR – What is it about the Australian YA that I’ve been reading recently? This book just has this simple, understated brilliance about it, giving me all the feels without ever venturing into melodrama.
For fans of: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera, and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Disclaimer: The quotes above are based on an e-ARC, which I received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review