Only mostly devastated by Sophie Gonzales

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Hachette, 2020. ISBN: 9781444956481.
This is a powerful story of adolescence with its joy and its pressures, its highs and its lows. Sophie Gonzales draws us into the lives of the characters, evoking our empathy for them in their adolescence, their journey through school and their hopes for the future. Gonzales presents the world from the point of view of an adolescent whose feelings are complex and whose choices are determined by his recognition of who he is, and his definition as homosexual, presented in an utterly captivating, evocative and candid narrative. Portraying so vividly the joys and the disappointments of the lives of teenagers, Gonzales paints a vivid picture of the interactions of adolescents, with other adolescents, their teachers and the adults who are part of their lives, particularly with their parents. Her focus is on their questioning of the values that they discover, both good and not so good, describing, vividly, their fear of failure, in school, relationships and life. Yet she tempers this more serious aspect of adolescence with the excitement that lies at the heart of this time of change in their lives, based so much in their changing body, point of view and hope for the future. Gonzales focuses on young people's quest to find their path, while maintaining their own identity, evoking our empathy and enabling us to see how we all have to face the necessity of making choices, of listening and observing the world, and choosing to spend time with people who enable us to be true to ourselves. Choice is at the heart of this novel, seen so vividly in the attraction of the young male protagonist to another male, where Gonzales describes the description of the glow that envelops us when we first realize that we are captivated by some one else. When Ollie falls in love with Will, he is stunned. Through beautifully described reactions, thoughts and interactions, we see how this narrative raises questions about what it is to be human, about how to handle the dawning of alternative sexuality, Gonzales drawing us in with her focus on the right to be different, and ultimately so gently describing the indescribable joy that humans experience when they share the joy of love. This is a moving and powerful story of the joy and the ache of adolescence, of the fear that one won't be good enough in so many ways, and of the dread of failure, in school, work and mostly deeply felt, in relationships. Deftly drawn, these characters are alive and real, with their emotions so clearly understandable and their lives so beautifully described. Concerning the sexual attraction of the same gender, Gonzales' describes society's responses to same sex interaction, gently and realistically showing how we can accept and be proud of our inborn drives. Themes: Homosexuality, Cancer, Dating.
Elizabeth Bondar