Content warnings: Parental disowning, misgendering, depression
My rating: 4 out of 5 books
- All the found family feelings for my heart parts
- Find you a man who will sit with you on a roof and talk about art
- There is no wrong way to do gender
- Therapy is good friends
- So are open air cinemas and dogs
“Bodies are fucking weird, especially when it feels like you don’t belong in your own.”
This book played my heartstrings like a goddamn harp. There’s often something so raw about ownvoices narratives like this one, because writing books dealing with the trauma and shame LGBTQIA+ people often grow up with frequently means, to a certain extent, exposing our own. I saw Mason Deaver describe this as ‘the book of my heart’ and I felt that completely while reading it.
Ben De Backer makes the decision to come out to their parents as nonbinary after months of struggling to come to terms with their identity alone, and the resulting conversation broke my heart and made my chest feel achingly cold. Alone in the cold with only their estranged sister to turn to via a number that may not even be hers any more, Ben is at a loss about how to go on. But Hannah comes, and she takes her sibling in without a moment’s hesitation, and Ben is offered a sanctuary in a world determined to misunderstand them. Of course their plan to quietly finish high school throughout all of this is interrupted somewhat by Nathan Allan and his determination to befriend Ben no matter what.
Ben’s determination not to be out at school was immensely sad to read, but entirely understandable as a queer adult – I know how it feels to be struggling with a secret you won’t voice for fear of repercussions from those you spend every day with. But it was wonderful to see Hannah desperately trying to support and understand her sibling, and entirely too realistic that sometimes she did it wrong and it wasn’t an act of malice, it wasn’t even a conscious thing, it was a temporary failure to unlearn societal lessons she’d been fed since birth. Of course she will use Ben’s preferred pronouns and help them in any way she can, but she automatically buys them clothes from the men’s section in the shops.
Okay this deserves its own paragraph: THANK YOU MASON DEAVER FOR NORMALISING THERAPY. Yes folks, Ben attends therapy sessions and it helps and we see them slowly recovering and yes we see relapses into sadness but that’s just how recovery goes, it isn’t linear. Also as someone who has been taking antidepressants to help balance her mental health and anxiety alongside therapy thank you for also normalising those because they do help, they are not weakness, a last resort, or a placebo. Sometimes they are a lifejacket in the middle of the ocean and honestly to see them discussed candidly in a book was fabulous for me and my heart.
As is the case with many contemporary books, there were elements of it that – to me – will date the book fairly rapidly. I realise that this is pedantic of me, but damn it three years of studying the history of literature will leave you with a few things you just can’t not notice. I always find when specific singers or shows or things like that get a call out it very specifically dates a book. This by no means ruins the reading experience, and these shout outs are frequently to other LGBTQIA+ creators which is a wonderful starter for people wanting to find more content to explore, it just has a tendency to pull me out of a book briefly and that’s on me, not Mason Deaver.
Overall the experience of reading this book was just a sort of warm blanket for me, yes it begins very sadly and I want to warn you of that because if you’re in a bad place that might be hard for you to read, but it was just so wonderful to see a book like this in the world. I am just so happy that people growing up today can find books like this and draw comfort from them, and know that they are not alone out there. Young Charlotte needed books like this, perhaps they would have saved me a lot of that therapy, and I think every library in the entire world should stock this book. I read it relatively quickly, but it has lingered with me ever since. Thank you Mason Deaver for giving the world this story, and well done because it is wonderful.