A debut YA novel offers a tale of reaching out, conflict, and acceptance.
Wyatt Yarrow is caught between a rock and a hard place. He’s a closeted gay teenager, surrounded by deep-rooted homophobia in the small town of Lincolnville, Oregon. Not only that, he’s also a devoted history nerd who even makes videos about his favorite subjects. In other words, Wyatt’s bully, Jonathon Rails, has plenty of ammunition. None of that is news, but when Wyatt’s best (and only) friend, Mackenzie Miller, starts romantically pursuing him, he reaches a whole new level of isolation. Retreating into history books, Wyatt still finds some respite in his favorite subject: President Abraham Lincoln. What’s more, Wyatt’s research leads him to a shocking discovery: Lincoln was in love with another man. Armed with this information, Wyatt hopes that it can bring about some newfound acceptance for gay people and maybe drum up customers for the family business, a bed-and-breakfast themed after Lincoln’s life that’s struggling to stay afloat. Wyatt posts his evidence online, thinking that he’s about to see change for the better. But what he gets instead is an out-of-control controversy, threatening to cost him everything as it grows and spreads way beyond Lincolnville’s borders. Far from having his problems solved, Wyatt finds himself lost and confused, struggling to provide more proof and discovering who he is when pushed against the wall. The novel’s premise is a real hook, lending Wind’s complex story a sense of gravitas beyond the personal narrative. Add to that the thorough research behind Wyatt’s discovery (and the end notes that go along with it), and readers have something with real potential to influence and educate on top of entertaining. If there’s any fault to be found, it’s a lack of subtlety. Parts of the narrative and some of the characters’ actions feel exaggerated or dated, ranging from large public gestures and dramatically timed changes of heart to the level of blatant intolerance on display, with the gym teacher casually using homophobic slurs, for instance. The threats and pressures heaped on Wyatt and his family also register as somewhat divorced from more contemporary breeds of harassment and bullying. But throughout all of this, Wyatt’s need to feel connected and accepted is palpable and genuine, which makes up for the inconsistencies.
A tapestry of the gay teenage experience—frayed edges repaired with earnest love and care.