Written and illustrated by Mike Curato
Published by Henry Holt and Co, September 1, 2020
My star rating – 4 stars
I know I’m not gay. Gay boys like other boys. I hate boys. They’re mean, and scary, and they’re always destroying something or saying something dumb or both.
I hate that word. Gay. It makes me feel . . . unsafe.
It’s the summer between middle school and high school, and Aiden Navarro is away at camp. Everyone’s going through changes—but for Aiden, the stakes feel higher. As he navigates friendships, deals with bullies, and spends time with Elias (a boy he can’t stop thinking about), he finds himself on a path of self-discovery and acceptance. Find it on Goodreads
This book wasn’t even on my radar until I saw it on a newsletter from the publisher. I immediately became obsessed and HAD to read it! Let me tell you – of all the graphic novels that I’ve read, this one was a game changer in so many ways!
First of all, I need to mention that this isn’t your typical graphic novel. It’s a good time, yes, but not in the way that you might expect. I don’t know about you but I typically pick up graphic novels for a little fun adventure. They’re quick to read, usually light and upbeat, and adventure seems to be the theme. This book is none of those things – but in the best way possible! As you can imagine, due to the serious subject matter, this does come with some content warnings. There’s bullying, physical/mental abuse, depression, gay bashing, self harm, and suicide. I know that mentioning these warnings makes it sound intense and heavy but it’s a story of hope and acceptance that’s well worth the read!
First off, as far as quick, this one took me way longer than it normally does for a graphic novel and that made me happy! I don’t buy them a lot of the time because they’re quite expensive and I can finish it within an hour or so. With this one though, there was a LOT more dialogue! There was a lot more conversation between characters and a lot of inner monologue with the main character. He’s going through a lot. He’s about to go into high school, he’s at a scout camp, and working through some issues. He’s got a difficult home life and now he’s dealing with thoughts of other boys. He’s basically overwhelmed with his life and trying to piece it all together. It kind of felt like a great mix between a short story and a graph novel. It really let me connect with the story and the characters. With graphic novels they rely heavily on the illustrations to evoke emotions. This still had that (more on that below) but the illustrations and the stories worked together to create this fantastic full experience!
Speaking of the illustrations – in the beginning, I thought that they were a little cartoonish, which fit the story. We’re following a boy in his early teens so it makes sense that it’s a little childish. I did, however, worry a little that the illustrations were going to be too “cute” to mesh well with the serious nature of the story. Nope! I was totally wrong! When the story took a turn these illustrations packed a punch! He did such a good job with matching the atmosphere of the story with the illustrations. And – this graphic novel did the thing that I LOVE the most! The illustrations were all black and white except for when there was fire and flames and then there were accent colours of red, orange, and yellow. It gave the whole thing a focal point and some added visual interest. I’m definitely a fan of the aesthetic of this book!
As I mentioned above, this book has some serious content, but there’s also so much hope! Aiden is about to go into high school and this is opening up a whole new world for him. He can reinvent himself and escape all the things about himself that he either doesn’t like or thinks is wrong. But reinvention also comes with fear of acceptance. Is this new version of himself going to be something that people like more (not that it matters in the long run but, to a teenager, this is what matters most), and is he going to have friends? There’s also the fact that he can’t stop thinking about another boy but, as a devout church goer, is this ok? He has so many questions about his future and feels like everything is either yes or no, right or wrong. But when he feels all hope is lost, there’s a spark of a flame that always says “IT GET’S BETTER” Even when you feel the most alone, there’s always someone with you. I couldn’t help but cry and smile at the end of this book!
It would have been a 5 star read if not for one thing – the dick and fart jokes. Wow. I mean, that was over the top. Ok, Ok. I realize that a camp full of teenage boys with raging testosterone is bound to be full of dick and fart jokes, butt (see what I did there?) it was too much sometimes. I wish that aspect of the book was calmed down a little. It was actually funny sometimes but after a while I found I was groaning and rolling my eyes, wishing it would stop. I think it would have been funnier if there was less of it. Less is more, right?
If you’re looking for a truly unique graphic novel to read this fall that has a lot of heart and emotion, this is the one. I’m so glad this book was mentioned from the publisher because I might not have heard of it otherwise. This is truly a beautiful story!!!
Thank you so much to Raincoast Books Canada and Henry Holt and Co. for the chance to read this in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own and are uninfluenced.
Until next time, happy reading!