Hello, everyone! Today is my stop on TheWriteReads Ultimate Blog Tour for Straight Expectations by Calum McSwiggan. I was going to pass on this one because I have so many other queer YA books on my shelf to read, but the premise of this one really stood out to me. I decided to give it a chance, and I’m really glad I did.
Genre(s): YA, Queer, Contemporary, LGBT
Publication Date: May 4, 2023 (UK); September 5, 2023 (US)
Length: 272 pages
The brilliant debut novel from author, presenter and LGBTQ+ advocate Calum McSwiggan!
Seventeen-year-old Max has always been out, proud and just a little spoiled. Frustrated by the lack of romantic options in his small-town high school, during an argument with his lifelong best friend Dean, Max lashes out and says he wishes he had never been born gay.
Max gets more than he bargained for when he wakes up to find his wish has come true – not only have his feelings for boys vanished, but so has Dean.
With his school life turned upside down and his relationship with his family in tatters, Max sets out on a journey of rediscovery to find a way back to the life he took for granted, and the romance he thought he’d never have.
A deliciously romantic YA debut that’s What If It’s Us and One Last Stop!
***Thank you to TheWriteReads and Penguin Books for allowing me to be part of the blog tour and for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***
I absolutely adored this fast-paced, funny, and insightful queer YA contemporary story. It explored some important and fascinating themes in an incredibly approachable and relatable way. I have no doubt many teens will love it. I know I would have at that age. The characters, themes, and unique premise came together really well to create something quite special.
There were so many lovable characters in this book. Max really did have some great friends, and the found family vibes of his group at school were wonderful to read. They were all so diverse, and I appreciated getting so many different personalities and perspectives. Each of the characters had big personas, and all of them brought something unique to the story. The story centered on Max, though, and his struggle with identifying what he wanted for his future. He was flawed in many ways. He was selfish and often acted impulsively without thinking through how those decisions would impact others. He was so wrapped up in his own trauma and fear of missing out on the ‘normal’ high school experience that he was seemingly oblivious to all the great things he already had in his life. Does this sound like a teenager yet? lol. The author did a great job of crafting the character into a relatable teen undergoing a bit of an identity crisis while also feeling uncertain of the future.
After wishing he could be normal, Max woke up straight one day. He quickly learned that being straight wasn’t as perfect as it seemed. The grass isn’t always greener, right? I loved how this premise allowed for the exploration of what it means to be queer. Despite being attracted only to girls, Max was still the same person. He learned that his sexual orientation didn’t define his entire personality but was instead only one piece, albeit an important one. He still liked and disliked all the same things, and he even figured out what he wanted to do with his life while being ‘straight Max.’ With its unique premise, the story was also able to illustrate the differences between sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Despite the change to his sexual orientation, Max was still interested in a lot of feminine things while also being straight. Stereotypes often link being gay with being feminine, but that’s really not true. There are plenty of super masculine queer people, as well as straight men who present with more feminine qualities or interests. This story provided the perfect opportunity to analyze many of those stereotypes, and the author did a great job with it.
I also liked the subplot involving Thomas because I think it teaches such an important lesson. Thomas was a bully in elementary/middle school and tormented Max regularly. As a result, Max developed the mentality of ‘once a homophobe, always a homophobe.’ I don’t fault Max for that because what Thomas did to him was really horrible, but putting Thomas in that box with no chance for redemption isn’t good either. People change and grow. We are not static beings and none of us are perfect all the time. Thomas’ arc showed how people can change for the better and how giving them an opportunity to do so can actually help heal some trauma. Obviously, this isn’t always the case because not everyone changes, but I found that arc cathartic to read and wish I’d had the chance to have a similar ending with some of my bullies from earlier in life. However, I do wish Thomas would have been a bit more fleshed out as a character, and I really would have loved to see a bit more of him and Max reconciling. I still enjoyed what we got, though.
I wish the book had been a little longer with a tiny bit more emphasis on the world-building. I read a ton of sci fi and fantasy, and I found myself wanting to know more about the mechanics of Max’s parallel universe. Was it actually a parallel universe? Was it a dream? What happened to the original ‘straight Max?’ I just had so many questions. lol. I know that none of that is particularly necessary for the story the author was trying to tell, but I would have liked it nonetheless. Overall, though, I really loved this book and definitely recommend it if you enjoy contemporary queer YA stories. Therefore, I rate this book 4.25 out of 5 stars.
CALUM MCSWIGGAN is an author, presenter, and LGBTQ+ advocate. He’s worked for Attitude magazine, written for the Metro, Gay Times and PinkNews, and was recently placed in the Guardian’s list of the 50 most influential LGBTQ+ figures. Putting LGBTQ+ stories at the heart of everything he does, he’s produced award- winning films that have been showcased at film festivals around the world and racked up over 10 million views on his online videos.