I guess the big way to discover your identity right now in middle grade fiction is to be in a play. I don't know if I'd like this trend to go beyond this book - like, I understand the reasoning, but having read both [b:George|24612624|George|Alex Gino|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1423358952s/24612624.jpg|44165520] AND [b:Gracefully Grayson|20873172|Gracefully Grayson|Ami Polonsky|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1413143765s/20873172.jpg|40211796] last year, I guess I'm hoping that this isn't the only way we're ever going to talk about LGBTQ themes to the point of stereotyping.
That said, I'm really very glad this book was written. The thing about reading both George and Grayson last year (along with the publications of [b:The Other Boy|28371999|The Other Boy|M.G. Hennessey|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1457115294s/28371999.jpg|48451903] and [b:Lily and Dunkin|23203257|Lily and Dunkin|Donna Gephart|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1453060643s/23203257.jpg|42747317], is that middle grade fiction was finally starting to be more open about gender identity. In contrast, however, I was still seeing a lot of holes in gay representation. (Also, I mean, the trans thing rarely gets put in books as part of the world and not the main focus of the story but that's a rant for another day.) I can guess that this is for a lot of reasons. Trans is about identity; who you are. Being gay is about ~*~*~CRUSHESSSSS~*~*~*~ AND~*~*~KISSING~*~*~ AND ~*~*~*~SEX~*~*~. I mean who would have guessed, right? We call it sexuality. I could go into how most Disney films end with a man and a woman kissing, how awful can it be when it's two girls, and how one is a-ok and one is PROMOTING GAYNESS but I'm sure you're all getting my point here, it's just a long rant I've had since I discovered I probably wasn't totally straight.
And the book is really sweet. Not only is the romance itself really sweet, the book itself makes a lot of points about romance, and on some level even dismantles the Romeo and Juliet narrative, even while loving and more or less staying true to it. No one is "stupid" in the book, everyone has their reasons. Even the person who initially comes off as the jock idiot says some of the most insightful stuff about how narrow-minded the play is. And not all of it is even thrown away with a "BUT IT'S LOOOOVE" argument! Though Willow and her crew more or less stay one-dimensional, I can't say I minded. A lot of the book toed around my "I don't know whether I hate this because I remember what it's like to be 13 and now I have HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE PERSPECTIVE or a character is GENUINELY IRRITATING" lines, but it never crossed firmly enough to be actually irritating. Tessa especially bordered; the worst part being that I could totally imagine myself acting that way. But I didn't hate Tessa. She was annoying but never to a point of hatred - a balance not often achieved in children's books.
I also appreciated the book's depiction of different families. Mattie herself has a close relationship with her half-sister Cara, who isn't even called a "half-sister". Tessa's mother is divorced, if I remember correctly? And so it seems, is Gemma's family, if they're not just living separately for financial job reasons. None of it is treated in the book like "THE DIVORCED FAMILY" or anything, which was refreshing.
I was kind of holding out for Elijah to be gay for Liam, but I guess we can't have everything.
I think it'll be an important book. Maybe one day we'll get an interracial gay love drama in middle grade and showing it *gasp* ON THE COVER. Both racial diversity AND LGBT diversity????? WHAT'S NEXT, DISABILITY REPRESENTATION?????? MAYBE IN A BOOK THAT ISN'T ABOUT SOMEONE DEALING WITH THEIR MINORITY STATUS???????????????????????
I mean, yes, I'm bitter and I will always, unashamedly push for more and better, but the book was cute and it depicted its message really well.