TW: homophobic comments, stereotyping, sexual assault, fetishism
“We have no control over what labels others give us, but we can define who we are by the ones we choose to give ourselves”
Thank you NetGalley for providing me an Earc in exchange for an honest review
Ahhhhh! Julian Winters has done it again. He’s easily becoming one of my favorite authors. This isn’t necessarily a big “plot-based” book like “Running for Lions” but his loveable, memorable, relatable and passionate characters and the inspiring writing really makes up for that. It’s more about a teenager discovering more about themselves and their place in the world
Remy is facing a lot of pressure to write the best essay—about “who he is”— for his AP Lit class and he has no idea how to describe himself without using the labels he has been given to him (the Black gay adopted kid). Remy feels the pressure because if he doesn’t write an impressive essay, he will lose his chance of getting into his top college. The book really explores whether Remy knows his true self and also how he uses the labels that life already handed him. They’re other conflicts that occur in the book such as a cute romance but it’s truly about Remy’s self-discovery.
Again, I ADORED this book. I related to Remy a lot of ways, especially being one of the only black people not just at school but also at home. The relationship he has with his family is just wholesome but imperfect. Remy has a corny dad, a bright mom, a curious sister and he has a special relationship with each one of them. I always worry when authors write about adoptive children/teens because they almost always make it a tragic story or make the main character feel out of place but Winters created healthy relationships, without shying away some of the difficulties. There’s a scene in the book with his mom that brought tears to my eyes (I rarely cry while reading) and Winters really knows how to pull a reader’s heartstrings.
I love when contemporaries put a big emphasis on the friend group and this one gets it done. Winters almost focuses a lot more on the friend group than the romance but I did not mind that at all. They are all different, are not complete stereotypes and all are supportive with one another. The romance was also very cute and soft. The love interest isn’t completely out but Remy wasn’t at all annoyed with him taking his time out of the closet.
Conversations about stereotypes are also relevant in this book. Winters discusses religious, black, gay and gendered stereotypes in a productive way. What I often find in a lot of books today is authors invalidating religion. As a person who is not at all religious, I didn’t mind this as much but this book changed my view. We have characters who are religious but still believe in a higher power and the book discusses why it’s important to not completely invalidate religion (even Christianity/catholicism). People find a lot of comfort in believing in higher powers and I believe it’s important to depict the notion in a healthy way which Winters definitely does.
No, this book isn’t perfect. I got a tad bit annoyed with Remy because he kept mentioning his boner every chapter but I still loved this book nonetheless. The book proclaims that life is a journey and it’s okay to not know everything at the moment or even in the future. Highly recommend!