Author: Christina Lauren
Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Length: 416 pages
Read Date(s): June 22, 2021 – June 24, 2021
Three years ago, Tanner Scott’s family relocated from California to Utah, a move that nudged the bisexual teen temporarily back into the closet. Now, with one semester of high school to go, and no obstacles between him and out-of-state college freedom, Tanner plans to coast through his remaining classes and clear out of Utah.
But when his best friend Autumn dares him to take Provo High’s prestigious Seminar—where honor roll students diligently toil to draft a book in a semester—Tanner can’t resist going against his better judgment and having a go, if only to prove to Autumn how silly the whole thing is. Writing a book in four months sounds simple. Four months is an eternity.
It turns out, Tanner is only partly right: four months is a long time. After all, it takes only one second for him to notice Sebastian Brother, the Mormon prodigy who sold his own Seminar novel the year before and who now mentors the class. And it takes less than a month for Tanner to fall completely in love with him.
I enjoyed my experience reading this book. I actually finished most of it in one sitting because the style and tone of the novel just kept me hooked. It was very meta; the book was about a boy writing a book about what happens in the book. Just thinking that through makes my brain hurt, but it was an interesting concept that the authors executed pretty well. The plot of the novel largely centered on the writing of the book and the budding relationship between the two main characters. The relationship was a bit angsty and filled with obsessive insta-love, but it was a high school setting. So, it felt appropriate for the age of the characters and fit well with the story the authors were trying to tell. The book was able to use the relationship to explore themes related to growing up queer in a very conservative community and did a good job presenting the complexities of this situation without demonizing any of the participants.
I loved that most of the book is from the perspective of a bisexual male character, Tanner. He was unabashedly bisexual and confronted many bisexual stereotypes throughout the book as he interacted with the other characters. It was also interesting and emotional to see him struggle with staying in the closet for his own safety after having experienced the freedom of being out in the previous place he lived. The small details of his experience (trying to hide his reactions to attractive men, struggling to remain calm when hearing someone use the word faggot, etc.) really brought the character to life and made him seem human and relatable. However, the authors decided to use my most hated trope for bi+ men, and it left me feeling a little gross after reading it. I won’t say what it was since it will give away a major plot point, but it infuriates me how often it is included in stories related to bi+ men and screams of being a plot device used only to prove the man’s bisexuality.
My favorite thing about this book is its exploration of the intersection of religion and queer identity. It is actually what made me want to read the book in the first place, and Sebastian’s struggle with reconciling those two aspects of his identity was both painful and beautiful to read. The authors used his character to artfully weave together a critique on Mormon views of queer people and an individual spiritual journey highlighting the importance of trusting your personal journey with your higher power over religious dogma. It showcased the potential loss of community and identity religious queer people must grapple with when deciding how best to integrate and live out both of these aspects of their lives. I only wish more of the book had been written from Sebastian’s perspective because it would have been amazing to delve even deeper into those thought processes. In general, I also found all of the information about Mormons to be incredibly fascinating and enjoyed getting to learn more about their views and lifestyle through the eyes of these characters.
Despite liking the book overall and loving many aspects of it, there were quite a few things I didn’t like. First, the parents in this novel SUCK. The authors try to paint Tanner’s parents as great accepting people, but they literally force him back in the closet after making him move for a slightly better job for his mom. The rationale for the move just seemed really selfish, and then they spent most of the book telling Tanner not to trust any of his friends because it wasn’t safe to come out. Second, the secondary characters felt really absent from the book. Other than Tanner’s best friend, there is little interaction with anyone else in the school, which seemed like a missed opportunity and made the story feel small. Third, the characters seemed to get over really dramatic moments too quickly with no explanation, and things that seemed important to the plot just disappeared when they were no longer useful to moving the story forward. For example, most of the book included conversations about prom, but the book skips over prom and doesn’t even mention if the characters actually went. Tanner’s best friend also spent most of the book attempting to get a boyfriend only to have him disappear toward the end of the book…never to be mentioned again, which was extra strange since he was supposedly also Tanner’s friend. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I hated where the book ended. So much happened between the end and the events of the epilogue that could have been incredibly impactful to read. It disappointed me to not get to see it play out.
Overall, I enjoyed the book, especially the bi+ representation and exploration of the integration of queer and religious aspects of identity. It has its faults, but the story was a great portrayal of the struggles queer kids can face in a conservative community that I would recommend to anyone. Therefore, I rate it 4 out of 5 stars.