Teens in 1980s New York City navigate adolescence in the wake of the AIDS crisis.
When Michael’s older brother, Connor, came out to their Catholic parents, their father kicked Connor out. At 16, Michael keeps his sexuality secret in fear of the same fate. Michael could move out and go drinking and dancing every night with his friends at The Echo and “forget, forget, forget.” But, in the shadow of the “gay plague,” he asks: “How do I live my life without becoming a statistic?” As people around Michael get sick, he struggles to balance his desire for liberation and the consequences that may come with it. Dunbar (Boomerang, 2018, etc.) painstakingly populates the narrative with 1980s references—particularly to music—creating a vivid historical setting. However, occasional contemporary phrases like “All the things” do slip in. With characters that veer toward archetypes, the text seems more history- than character-driven. Nonetheless, the racially and religiously diverse cast, emphasis on safe sex practices, and careful maneuvering around queer plot tropes offer a compelling, teen-movie–esque portrait of the times. Dunbar’s lack of quotation marks in dialogue augments Michael’s strong first-person voice, matching the sense of immediacy brought by the author’s vignette style. The afterword with reflections from three activists provides real-life historical context. Michael and his family are coded as white.
A painful but ultimately empowering queer history lesson. (afterword) (Historical fiction. 13-18)