A pair of teens under stress finds comfort in each other.
Ethan suffers from anxiety and self-medicates with downers. After he tries a day sober, a panic attack causes him to flee school and hide, when he’s spotted by Gabe, a girl with short hair, who calms him down and fends off bullies who spotted them. Over a few days, Ethan and Gabe form a friendship as readers learn that Ethan’s parents fight constantly, leaving Ethan feeling panicked and isolated, and Gabe’s having a sort of gender issue that’s getting her bullied to the point of deleting her social media and pressured by her parents to conform to girlhood. Some insight comes with the revelation of events, but the depth of the characterizations suffers from the novel’s brevity. With so little information about Gabe’s gender issues, it’s hard to imagine why she’d be bullied so relentlessly for her short hair and “masculine” clothes when she hasn’t explored, let alone declared, any gender changes or fluidity. There is a greater peril introduced by a stalker/bully, but it doesn’t quite land for suspense. Choyce is conscientious in dealing with gender and anxiety, but with so little time spent with Ethan and Gabe, this pretty good novella can’t be a really great novel. Racial cues are entirely absent.
Definitely worth exploring for those completely new to gender fluidity or anxiety issues in teens, as it makes a good primer, but not a deep, character-driven read. (Fiction. 12-16)