Published September 21st 2017 by Saga Press (first published September 12th 2017)
Author: Christina Lauren
Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary/LGBT
Star rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“The end of our final winter break seems almost like the beginning of a victory lap.”
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 first heard about this book via Bookstagram. I saw pictures of it, and the title immediately appealed to me. After a little read around, I found out that the main character, Tanner, is bisexual. It was at this precise moment I decided I had to read it. So how happy was I to find a copy in my local library? Very happy indeed.
The book itself is a book within a book. And the book we’re reading at first seems like a narrative revolving around Tanner (and narrated by him) but it soon becomes clear that the book he’s writing for his Seminar class is in fact the one we are reading. He’s writing an autobiographical novel, sparked by the momentous event of his TA, Sebastian, entering his life.
Tanner immediately has a crush on Sebastian, but the problem is that he’s a Mormon. Before reading this book, I knew very little about the Mormon religion and is practices. But this book focuses on it quite heavily, as much as it focuses on the subject of sexuality. They go hand in hand, because of course, Tanner can’t express his feelings openly to Seb, in fear that he will have a problem with his queerness.
Hence Tanner’s outline for his novel: “A half-Jewish, half-nothing queer kid moves to an LDS-infested town. He can’t wait to leave.”
“Missionaries are some of the kindest people you will ever meet. But they will want you to read their book, and they will want you to see the truth the way their church sees it.”
Let me focus on the sexuality bit first. I’ve read a lot of YA, especially those dealing with LGBT themes and characters. Most of these have featured a gay male protagonist. But this is the first time I’ve read a YA book with a bisexual male protagonist, where bisexuality is a subject that’s discussed and thought about in more depth than I’ve encountered in this kind of book before. The following passage was particularly poignant for me (being a bisexual person):
“There’s the devil on one shoulder, the ignorant perception that I get from all sides, both inside and outside the queer community, who say bisexuality is really about indecision, that it’s impossible for bisexuals to be satisfied with one person and the label is a way to not commit. And then there’s the angel on the other shoulder – who the queer-positive books and pamphlets encourage me to believe – saying that no, what it means is I’m open to falling in love with anyone. I’m happy to commit, but the specific parts don’t matter as much as the person.”
I may or may not have got a little emotional reading that. If I’d have had such a passage in a book during my teenage years, I’m sure my understanding of myself and my sexuality would have been a lot easier than it was. And getting to know Tanner has been like looking in on another person like me (albeit male) and navigating their feelings and my own. Although his feelings in the book are directed towards Sebastian, we find out that he has been with girls before, and he is clear when he says he wants to kiss girls as much as boys, and he feels the same when looking at naked pictures of either men or women. There’s no uncertainty for him, and I love that. Not because it should be obvious, but because there are people who need to hear that.
It’s also interesting to delve into the more religious themes in the book. Tanner is living in a predominantly LDS (Latter Day Saints) Mormon community, and he feels like he can’t be himself. He is out to his family, who accept him, but his best friend Autumn doesn’t know. He knows the serious impact his feelings for Sebastian could have, but towards the end of the book there’s a sense of defiance in Tanner and his attitude towards Mormon beliefs on homosexuality. He knows what he feels is okay and right, and it’s this (in the face of strong religious beliefs) that really makes the book a success for me.
The story, essentially, is about love. And navigating that love through multiple conflicts. It’s about parent-child relationships, about religion, coming out, and about writing a book, and pouring feelings out into writing. It’s about seeing your life and your experiences in terms of a story that you’re living, and for this to be what you need. And it’s about finding your way to the end of that story.
And at the back of the book, there’s a list of books, films, websites, groups, and book recommendation sites to direct the reader to more queer-themed material. I will be using it as a checklist!
Link to the book on Goodreads: Autoboyography