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ARC was given by NetGalley & Astra Publishing House in exchange for an honest review.
This review is being published after the release date (May 3rd, 2022)
Content/Trigger Warnings: Talk of near death experience, talk of death, talk of murder, hate crimes, talk of racism, mentions of cancer (in the past), mention loss of loved ones (in the past), grief, trauma/PTSD, self-harm, alcoholism, underage drinking, mentions of biphobia/bi-erasure, transphobia, homophobia, misgendering, ableism, bullying, stalking, emotionally abusive parents, anxiety & panic attacks, mentions of car accident, scene of emesis, poisoning, scene of anaphylactic shock, scene of strangulation, gun violence
I have been sitting on this review for a few days now and trying to decide how to convey my disappointment with this book. I really, really wanted to love this book especially because this book has so much representation we often don’t see in literature. I was so ecstatic about the synopsis and my curiosity was running wild with what the pages of this book would contain. However, I’ve been left unsatisfied and wondering if I even read the same book as everyone else because this was a huge flop for me.
“I’m not afraid of death because the living are much scarier, even the ones who aren’t trying to kill you.”
Our story follows Sam Sylvester, a non-binary teen who just moved to the town of Astoria. This move is supposed to be a fresh new start for Sam to recover from a trauma and hopefully this school will not only be more understanding of Sam’s gender, but also help accommodate Sam due to them being autistic. But as Sam starts making friends with the kids of the club for all the queer folk at school, things begin to heat up. After finding out a local kid was murdered in their home, Sam and friends decide to investigate what really happened, but things start to take a serious turn as they get closer to the truth.
I think my most favorite thing about this whole entire book was the relationship between Sam and their father, Junius. The bond and connection between Junius and Sam was so special, so wholesome, and it was the highlight of the entire book. Every scene that we had with them made me so emotional and so mushy, so soft, and it was a wonderful experience. Plus, the dynamic between Sam and Junius is one we don’t often see in literature. Sam is Junius’s adopted child and when I tell you how emotional I got over the memory flashbacks for the two of them coming together, it had me dissolving into a puddle. It was really wonderful being able to see those memories and how the two came together. The other dynamic is the single father household dynamic. This is representation we don’t often see in literature and deserves to be recognized for what it is. Seeing a single father household and seeing such a close-knit relationship between the main character and their father was such a breath of fresh air, and I just had to point out how much I really loved this about Sam and Junius.
“This is why I will never understand how people think family is as common as blood. To me, family is breath, it’s trusting the person besides you to demand your right to air in a world that would take it away from you.”
Speaking of representation, this book has so, so much representation. As I already mentioned, our main character, Sam is non-binary (they use they/them pronouns), autistic, and ace. There’s also so many side characters who bring so much diversity to the table. Mister Quach is Vietnamese and the teacher of the Queer club, Shep is Latinx and bisexual, Sky is bisexual, and Junius (Sam’s father) is Black, asexual and aromatic! I also want to take a moment to point out Aiden comes from a home of poverty/financial struggle and there’s so many moments of conversations surrounding this. I wanted to point this out because in middle grade books we often see things from a child’s perspective or even see financial struggles in the young adult/adult perspective, but we never see things from a teenager in high school especially from a teenager who has a high social status in school. This really hit home for me for a lot of reasons and I really wanted to give this the attention it deserves. Plus, Aiden as whole is an underrated character and deserves a lot more love.
“You have nothing to prove. To anybody. You are who you are.”
Sadly, these are about the only two really redeeming qualities that I really loved and enjoyed throughout this entire book. Again, I really wanted to love this book because those two things were so strong (which is why this book got the rating it did), but my love for those two things is not enough to overlook all the issues with this book as a whole. And friends, there were a lot of issues with this book.
One of the major things that really impacted this book was the writing and narrative of the voice. I can’t begin to express how important it is to have the right tone especially when it comes to contemporary and mystery books. The way this book dialogue felt more like a middle grade book and the way it fell flat made it incredibly hard to find motivation to read this book. There were many times where I wanted to ‘dnf’ this book because it felt like I was trudging through quick sand. Plus, the pacing felt very choppy in the sense of it would feel slow and then fast, then go back to slow. It was just an around rough time. This ties in with the ending as well. The ending felt rushed and a lot of the things that came to light felt swept under the rug and the most typical consequences being used to deal with the actions of others.
“That’s just it – people get jealous, of the popular kids, of the ones who get attention because they’re nice. And kids are cruel. Even if they don’t mean to really hurt someone, well. Impact matters more than intent.”
The other major issue with this book was how predictable the killer was going to be. I love a good mystery book and I won’t lie, the mystery had me invested. I really wanted to know what the truth was going to turn out to be and I was invested in how everything was going to play out. However, by 17% into this book I already had three predictions of how this book was going to go and sure enough, I was right with two of those. Not only was the killer made really obvious, but the execution of leading up to the reveal was an entire mess. The very foundation for almost 50% of the book it’s hinted that the main reason was a hate crime and by the time we get to the 75% mark in the book, that whole foundation was scrapped for something else entirely. And what it was changed to was just a mess because the author had to rush to fill in gaps with all new information. It felt like a poor execution all around and it made the reading experience even worse.
I feel terrible for all this complaining and ranting, but this is only scratching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the issues. There’s a whole romance in this book between the main character and a side character that greatly lacked chemistry. Not to mention it felt like instant attraction between the two characters and things were really rushed between them. This is one of those times where I wish the author would have left the romantic subplot at home because this subplot literally caused this book to feel like it was trying to do too many things all at once. There’s also an entire conversation between Sam and a side character named Dylan about asexuality. When I say I had the most extreme second-hand embarrassment, I’m not kidding because I was cringing. I wish that conversation would have never happened, the scene felt entirely unnecessary, and I wish I could erase it from my mind. Not to mention the author wrote this side character to put all this pressure and blame/reason on Sam for why they were questioning things and feeling confused. It was one of the most awkward moments of this entire book (not that things weren’t already really awkward with this side character to begin with).
“They’re here with me because I found their stories, and this is the lesson I needed to learn from them.”
Overall, I was really excited and had high hopes for this book, but oof this book hurt my soul. And honestly, I should know better not to put my hopes too high when it comes to books I read due to this happening. This book fell short in so many categories and again, I wonder if I even read the same book as other readers because I’m definitely in the minority when it comes to my feelings with this book. If you’re looking for a book that has a cohesive story or a solid mystery plot, then I would recommend looking elsewhere. However, if you’re look for diverse representations like ace, non-binary, etc… then definitely give this book a chance.
Buddy Read with Destiny ♥
The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.