You can’t run away from life, your problems, or puberty….
Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT
No. of pages: 293
JAMES AND ALEX have barely anything in common anymore—least of all their experiences in high school, where James is a popular senior and Alex is suddenly an outcast. But at home, there is Henry, the precocious 10-year-old across the street, who eagerly befriends them both. And when Alex takes up running, there is James’s friend Nathen, who unites the brothers in moving and unexpected ways.
“What They Always Tell Us” is a scrappy dark horse of a novel with a strong sense on how those gossipy conversations that take place behind closed doors can impact a life. How the struggle to keep up appearances can weigh down and debilitate. That living one’s truth is the only way to find happiness. And although this books deals with issues of coming out as gay, these same points apply to the rest of the cast in varying degrees. Being so invested in what other people think is crippling.
Having said that, this book is not heavy, it’s light and comical with a serious undertone. The characters are realistic and likable; I felt like I could walk down my street and run into any one of the cast.
Brothers Alex and James’ journey epitomises issues we all face, and the narrative is clever. The dilemmas they tackle encompass many questions we face coming into adulthood and discovering what we are made of. The point which is cleverly made, is that coming out is universal, not just for individuals grappling with sexual identity. Their relationships feel organic and rings true to many friendships that I had in high school. Sometimes you simply see things differently and your perspective on life changes.
I too grew up in a small town and could not wait to get out.
The growing relationship between Alex and Nathen is so indicative of discovering love and coming out in high school, I found it poetically beautiful.
Henry, the ten-year-old neighbour is a breath of fresh air, and a voice of reason. Even though you can see his cogs turning during moments of quiet stoicism, his blatant honesty cuts right to the heart of so many issues.
I really liked the dual perspective in this novel – and the fact there is more than one story line. With so much going on, I was surprised that it felt a little flat. Even the ending was somewhat anticlimactic. I wanted something poignant or symbolic of their growth (other than graduation).
I have a lot of praise for this contemporary for its realism. But I guess with realism, you lose that fantastical happy ending – because, well, life goes on…
A fast melancholic read. Understated.
Overall feeling: quietly cool
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