Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Still riding on the emotional high from pride month, I’d like to talk about how LGBTQPIA+ books are some of my favorite reads. I especially love books that break away from the coming out and self discovery trope. I love to see a book grapple with the deeper issues of being queer from teens with great, distinct voices that take place in vibrant settings. I was able to find all of these qualities in Nina LaCour and David Levithan’s co-written contemporary queer romance novel You Know Me Well. Funny, sweet, dark and so poignantly true, this is a book that you need to read if you haven’t already.
LaCour and Levithan’s novel is told through alternating chapters that tell the stories of Kate and Mark respectively, two teens who live in the San Francisco area. When Kate and Mark meet in a gay bar on the first night of pride, each of them struggling to manage their own personal troubles, they team up for a journey to discover who truly knows them and if they even know themselves. While first and foremost a queer novel that celebrates queerness and queer community, You Know Me Well is also a testament to importance of self-care and self-discovery, of making choices for ourselves instead of other people.
I loved the representation of queer characters, especially a genderqueer character who lives in a shelter for queer youth and uses plural pronouns. I also loved that diversity of queer characters who use the same label. All of the gay boys and lesbian girls each have their own distinct characteristics. Any stereotypes are playful, on the surface of characters who each have a deeper meaning. Every single character felt like they were carefully sculpted by these two brilliant authors. Just when I thought I knew a character, something happened that surprised me, and I loved that. I would love to see so much more of that in YA.
I also loved the use of Pride Week as a structure for the book. Tapping into a week that means so much to the community was innovative and infused the storyline with a rare kinetic energy that I seek out in stories, but rarely find. Needless to say, I found it in this book.
The two narrators were the stars of this book, excellently characterized with voices that were distinct and well-crafted. I loved reading about Mark’s pained, unrequited and confusing love with his best friend, Ryan, even though those scenes were hard to read at times. I loved following his struggle and I was rooting for him the entire time. I also loved Kate’s struggle to accept the love around her, her struggle to stay in one place and receive it instead of always running away. I could relate to her feelings and found myself lost in her voice at times.
This novel also has a brilliantly vivid setting, the sense of place that feels like an additional character. From the Victorian houses to the parties to the bars to the art galleries, I always found myself wanting more details of this beautiful world that LaCour and Levithan depicted.
In terms of plot structure, this is a novel that twisted and turned just when I though things were going well, and I loved that. I loved seeing where these two expert writers were going to bring the story and found myself following along page after page after page. It’s the kind of story that has so much heart and so much adventure that you can’t help but read it in one sitting.
I also loved the depiction of love in this book. For those looking for swoon worthy, deep, sweet f/f romance, this is SO the book for you and I implore you to pick it up immediately. You will not regret it. And if you’re looking for unrequited love, where not everyone gets that happy ending, well, this is the book for you too. If you’re looking for a good story, pick up this book. It will put a smile on your face.
Finally, this book is just written so damn well. It kept my attention from the first page. The voices were so vivid, so well done that I got lost in the story and I just didn’t want it to end.