Book review: Somebody Told Me by Mia Siegert

Title: Somebody Told Me by Mia Siegert

Publisher: Lerner/Carolrhoda

Publication date: 7 April 2020

Genre: Contemporary | Young Adult

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: A novel of trauma, identity, and survival.

After an assault, bigender seventeen-year-old Aleks/Alexis is looking for a fresh start―so they voluntarily move in with their uncle, a Catholic priest. In their new bedroom, Aleks/Alexis discovers they can overhear parishioners in the church confessional. Moved by the struggles of these “sinners,” Aleks/Alexis decides to anonymously help them, finding solace in their secret identity: a guardian angel instead of a victim.

But then Aleks/Alexis overhears a confession of another priest admitting to sexually abusing a parishioner. As they try to uncover the priest’s identity before he hurts anyone again, Aleks/Alexis is also forced to confront their own abuser and come to terms with their past trauma.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for giving me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I first found this book thanks to Dahlia at LGBTQReads shouting about it as the first YA novel with bigender rep. The way this rep was handled was definitely my favourite part of the book and I loved seeing YA expand to include less talked about representation, but ultimately the plot of the novel felt confusing and I didn’t click with the writing style.

Aleks/Alexis has moved in with their strict Catholic Aunt and Uncle, to escape their old life after an assault. Choosing to present only as Alexis, they find solace in a new identity, Raziel. After discovering they can overhear confessionals from their room, as Raziel, they try to help others. But when they overhear a Priest confessing to assaulting an alterboy, they end up confronting their own assault as well as that of the Priest’s.

I want to first talk about the bigender rep in this book, because I found it absolutely wonderful and you could really feel how honest and true the author was being to their identity. I think this book will really help a lot of teens by providing such great representation of a marginalisation not commonly talked about. I really appreciated the honesty of this portrayal and in addition, I really loved the portrayal of Aleks/Alexis parents as well. None of the YA I read ever seems to show supportive parenting?! But this book did! Thank you for writing supportive parents who check in with their teen and support who they are without any issues.

However, as much as I wish I loved this book, I just don’t think it was my cup of tea. I initially really liked the stream of consciousness style of writing as I felt it gave a really great, detailed look at who our main character is, and I connected with them much quicker than usual thanks to this style. However it did get extremely repetitive and by the end of the book, I really wasn’t clicking with it at all. I also think the pacing was a little off. Until about 70% through, it’s filled with the repetitive stream of consciousness thoughts, very focused on who Aleks/Alexis is and how they feel, and then suddenly it turns into a thriller novel. It was quite confusing and I just don’t think it flowed well.

However, me not clicking with the writing style doesn’t mean you won’t! I think this is very much a ‘it’s not the book, it’s me’ case, because I know plenty of people who enjoy the very personal first person POV style of writing. I want to raise my support for this novel because the bigender rep is fantastic and I am happy to finally see the less spoken about queer identities getting their chance to shine in YA!!

Book review: The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

Title: The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Publication date: 30 January 2018

Genre: Contemporary | Young Adult

Page extent: 336 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: Seventeen-year-old Evan Panos doesn’t know where he fits in. His strict Greek mother refuses to see him as anything but a disappointment. His quiet, workaholic father is a staunch believer in avoiding any kind of conflict. And his best friend Henry has somehow become distractingly attractive over the summer.

Tired, isolated, scared—Evan’s only escape is drawing in an abandoned church that feels as lonely as he is. And, yes, he kissed one guy over the summer. But it’s his best friend Henry who’s now proving to be irresistible. It’s Henry who suddenly seems interested in being more than friends. And it’s Henry who makes him believe that he’s more than his mother’s harsh words and terrifying abuse. But as things with Henry heat up, and his mother’s abuse escalates, Evan has to decide how to find his voice in a world where he has survived so long by avoiding attention at all costs. 

Please note this review contains some mild spoilers.

I have rather mixed feelings on Angelo Surmelis’ The Dangerous Art of Blending In. It is at once both a realistic and emotional portrayal of domestic abuse, alongside an odd romantic arc and I don’t think the two stories fit well together.

Evan is a Greek immigrant in the US. His mother has physically, verbally and mentally abused him since he was young. His father does nothing to stop him. Evan has spent his whole life trying to hide the abuse, and the fact that he’s gay. But after a summer camp, when he comes back and realises his feelings for best friend Henry go beyond friendship, Evan’s worlds start to collide.

At its heart, this story is about Evan and his journey to find the strength to stand up to his parents, his pastor and himself. It’s just a pity he spent so much energy and motivation on Henry and their relationship. Henry…..doesn’t seem like the nicest person. There are parts of the romance arc I thought were great; and there are parts that are very iffy. One of my most hated things was that Henry didn’t seem to care if Evan got hurt by his mother if she had caught them in his house. He literally comes over and sneaks in, falls asleep, even though he knows what would happen if Evan’s mother caught then. I just can’t imagine how someone could completely risk the person they claim to love like that. I know you want to sleep with Evan – but like, do you want him to die as well?! He also got oddly angry at Evan for no reason multiple times, didn’t bother trying to do anything to help Evan, there’s some constant consent issues (both sexual consent as well as that related to my above comment on ignoring Evan’s concerns about his mother catching then) AND after Evan trusted him enough to tell him what the fuck was going on at home, he just left him for three months to suffer….. Some love.

What I did love was the very honest, uncomfortable and distressing portrayal of abuse. The systematic way Evan’s mother would be nice and kind one second and ferocious the next, the back handeded compliments, the constant faults, it was handled well and is very reflective of the reality of the abuse cycle. This impact of this constant system was clearly reflected in Evan, in the way he still hoped and yearned for love from his mother or father, or for something to change or someone to notice enough and actually do something about it. There were parts where I felt the dialogue went very stiff and stilted, but given the subject material, I think it would’ve been really difficult to do otherwise.

All in all, this book would’ve been a really great portrayal of domestic child abuse, but the focus on the problematic romantic relationship took up so much energy and I think that let this book down.