A superb contemporary glimmering with diversity.
Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT
No. of pages: 230
When Frederick shows up at school, Xio is thrilled. The new boy is shy, cute, and definitely good boyfriend material. Before long, she pulls him into her lively circle of friends.
Frederick knows he should be flattered by Xio’s attention. After all, she’s popular, pretty, and a lot of fun. So why can’t he stop thinking about Victor, the captain of the soccer team, instead?
I felt ‘So Hard to Say’ was more aimed at a middle grade demographic, and in that sense, didn’t have the emotional punch I was looking for. Nor was the storyline complex. However, this novel was innocently concise and poignant. And definitely worth the read.
The narrative married perfectly with the inner voices of our protagonists Xio and Frederick. The Mexican culture that Xio brought, and the confusion and coming of age from Frederick’s story were nothing other than brilliant.
It completely captured those moments of questioning about first love, or attraction, and sexual orientation in the judgemental arena of high school. Even if you removed the aspect of Fredericks questioning his sexuality, the way he approached different friends directly translated to many friendships I had growing up – some you were friends with outside of school, some within… I liked that it showed multiple ways relationships develop throughout your childhood to teen years.
Even though it felt very innocent and stylized, it captures the issues facing our protagonists with an understated grace. This is not an angsty over dramatized account of Xio and Frederick’s life, but a great peek through their eyes with enough insight to set the scene and let you draw from your own emotions and experiences.
Xio’s inner monologue is mixed with culture and a lack of confidence that all teen girls seem to stumble through – what’s wrong with me? Why won’t he love me? I actually loved that realism about her, and her joy at embracing family and heritage.
Frederick’s life in comparison felt sparse – but you soon realise it’s on purpose. He’s distanced many parts of his life because he’s not sure about things. It was a joy to grow with him through the novel and see him fill those empty spaces, on his way to becoming the person he is meant to be.
Xio’s closing chapter was the most touching and prophetic. I’ve had sexual and gender-diverse friends all my life and can’t imagine ever not sharing our journey together. Friendship is forever – especially when the bond is more like family than someone you happened to go to school with.
I personally learnt a lot from Xio; about Mexican culture and home life. It’s not something we get a lot of exposure to here in Australia. And the fact that the language was scattered into the dialogue was fun. Even in the end pages you get a glossary of terms that I found cool.
This is my first novel from Alex Sanchez and has definitely left me wanting to pick up more of his titles. They are short enough with a light writing style that lends to being able to complete in a day. A great book to give to a younger teen. It was educational, insightful and a cute contemporary. I’d recommend this to lovers of contemporary, diversity and simple love/friendships that can resound with you long after reading. It was certainly a pleasant surprise for me.
Overall reaction: How adorable (kinda like this panda – he’s black, he’s white, and he’s Asian.)
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