Deaver’s debut delivers an honest coming-of-age and coming-out story about 18-year-old queer, nonbinary Ben De Backer.
The novel centers on conflicts within a North Carolina family that drive the narrative after Ben comes out to their parents and is kicked out of the house. Welcomed by their older sister, Hannah, who they haven’t spoken to in more than a decade, and her husband, Thomas, they begin a new life, enter therapy, and begin to find peace as they finish their senior year. Ben finds comfort in art classes, which become a safe haven as the art teacher takes them under her wing. Ben’s loneliness abates thanks to budding friendships, but when their connection with another student, Nathan, hints at something more, Ben struggles to find the confidence to risk sharing their truth again. Dealing with new friendships, family rejection, first love, anxiety, and personal growth, this novel is grounded in familiar YA terrain while exploring themes of gender identity. Deaver’s treatment of Ben’s nonbinary identity creates a realistic portrayal of their journey toward self-acceptance. Ben and their family are white, Nathan is brown-skinned (ethnicity unspecified), and a few secondary characters are ethnically diverse, including a nonbinary character who is a Muslim immigrant and hijabi.
Holds appeal for readers of all genders and sexualities through sympathetic characters and a hopeful narrative of empowerment. (Fiction. 14-18)