THINGS WE COULDN'T SAY

A realistic depiction of challenging circumstances and first love.

Abandonment issues abound in an emotional coming-out, coming-of-age, and coming-to-terms story.

When 17-year-old Giovanni Zander came out to his pastor father as bisexual, it didn’t go well. His best friends and stepmother are supportive, but his often drunk, very religious dad’s rejection of who Gio really is just exacerbates how he’s been feeling ever since his mother rejected their whole family and left when he was little. Gio’s never gotten over it, so when his birthmother finally reaches out, a lot goes through his head. This high-stress situation for a queer, Black pastor’s kid facing almost comically insensitive teachers in a tough Indiana neighborhood is complicated even further by meeting David, a new White student who plays with him on the basketball team—and who may just be the one. David helps Gio through the bumpy ups and downs of his mother’s reinsertion of herself into his life, but even as this new romantic relationship flourishes, old wounds prove hard to overcome. There’s not much subtlety in Gio’s narration, in which heartbreak and hurt continually erupt from the seams of his mind and home, school, and community lives. Still, a bright spot for Gio and readers alike is the unlikely pairing of two boys who share music, basketball glory, and some desperately needed moments of intimacy.

A realistic depiction of challenging circumstances and first love. (Fiction. 12-18)

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-338-73418-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

IF ONLY I HAD TOLD HER

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind.

In this companion novel to 2013’s If He Had Been With Me, three characters tell their sides of the story.

Finn’s narrative starts three days before his death. He explores the progress of his unrequited love for best friend Autumn up until the day he finally expresses his feelings. Finn’s story ends with his tragic death, which leaves his close friends devastated, unmoored, and uncertain how to go on. Jack’s section follows, offering a heartbreaking look at what it’s like to live with grief. Jack works to overcome the anger he feels toward Sylvie, the girlfriend Finn was breaking up with when he died, and Autumn, the girl he was preparing to build his life around (but whom Jack believed wasn’t good enough for Finn). But when Jack sees how Autumn’s grief matches his own, it changes their understanding of one another. Autumn’s chapters trace her life without Finn as readers follow her struggles with mental health and balancing love and loss. Those who have read the earlier book will better connect with and feel for these characters, particularly since they’ll have a more well-rounded impression of Finn. The pain and anger is well written, and the novel highlights the most troublesome aspects of young adulthood: overconfidence sprinkled with heavy insecurities, fear-fueled decisions, bad communication, and brash judgments. Characters are cued white.

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind. (author’s note, content warning) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781728276229

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024

IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.

The finely drawn characters capture readers’ attention in this debut.

Autumn and Phineas, nicknamed Finny, were born a week apart; their mothers are still best friends. Growing up, Autumn and Finny were like peas in a pod despite their differences: Autumn is “quirky and odd,” while Finny is “sweet and shy and everyone like[s] him.” But in eighth grade, Autumn and Finny stop being friends due to an unexpected kiss. They drift apart and find new friends, but their friendship keeps asserting itself at parties, shared holiday gatherings and random encounters. In the summer after graduation, Autumn and Finny reconnect and are finally ready to be more than friends. But on August 8, everything changes, and Autumn has to rely on all her strength to move on. Autumn’s coming-of-age is sensitively chronicled, with a wide range of experiences and events shaping her character. Even secondary characters are well-rounded, with their own histories and motivations.

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.   (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4022-7782-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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