Title: Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication date: 4 June 2019
Genre: Historical (1980s) | Young adult
Page extent: 432 pages
Goodreads blurb: It’s 1989 in New York City, and for three teens, the world is changing.
Reza is an Iranian boy who has just moved to the city with his mother to live with his stepfather and stepbrother. He’s terrified that someone will guess the truth he can barely acknowledge about himself. Reza knows he’s gay, but all he knows of gay life are the media’s images of men dying of AIDS.
Judy is an aspiring fashion designer who worships her uncle Stephen, a gay man with AIDS who devotes his time to activism as a member of ACT UP. Judy has never imagined finding romance…until she falls for Reza and they start dating.
Art is Judy’s best friend, their school’s only out and proud teen. He’ll never be who his conservative parents want him to be, so he rebels by documenting the AIDS crisis through his photographs.
As Reza and Art grow closer, Reza struggles to find a way out of his deception that won’t break Judy’s heart–and destroy the most meaningful friendship he’s ever known.
Sometimes you find a book you know reading will change you. And as I now sit, my face aching from clenching my jaw to stop tears, my heart feeling ripped open and feeling the strength and courage that raged through this book, I am not surprised. Because Like a Love Story is one of those powerful, unflinchingly beautiful stories about friendship and family, love and fear, but above all else, the power of life.
Set in the late 80s, during the height of the AIDS crisis, Iranian Reza, closeted gay teen, has moved to New York with his family. There he meets Art, beautiful, strong Art, who is so colourful and brave and lights up Reza’s life. But Reza is growing up in the age of AIDS, with the fear being drilled into young people so much that he cannot face who he is, the terror that he might die overwhelming him. Instead, he finds himself befriended by Judy, Art’s best friend. Judy is Reza’s first friend, and in his struggle to accept himself and fear of losing Judy, he begins to date her. In the backdrop of the story of these three friends, told across each of their POV’s, is the struggle and fight of the ACT UP movement. We met Stephen, Judy’s gay uncle, slowly deteriorating as the disease takes over, who introduces these teens to the world of activism and the ACT UP movement. We meet so many beautiful characters, their utter strength and courage singing through the pages, even if we only see them for a glance. Art, budding photographer, photographs individuals across the book, taking snapshots of people and moments of history, and through these images he takes and his descriptions on the page, we see these characters in such a startlingly colourful way. From just a few lines describing a moment in the book, it feels like we know them so much more as Art brings these characters to life in his POV.
The raw emotion sweeps through this book. But despite the pain and the honest depiction of loss and death, there is such a powerful message of hope and love. We see this in the scenes at protests, the fire and drive of this community roaring; we see it in the extracts from Stephen’s notebook, a series of numbered life notes on topics like Madonna, High School and Love. But most of all, we see it in the very fabric of the book, in the relationships between these characters and they’re ability to overcome such intensely difficult odds to survive.
Art is such a powerfully intense character – his impulsiveness drives him and his complete fearlessness in the face of fighting.
Reza, sweet innocent Reza who is so terrified of a disease which might kill him, and so hates himself from being unable to face the truth.
Judy, kind and loving Judy who just wants someone to appreciate her and love her, and latches on to the first person to do so. I do admit, I disliked her more than the others – I couldn’t really forgive her for her horrific reaction to Reza’s coming out, no matter how terrible that must feel to her, particularly given the way she seemed to throw herself at Reza from their first meeting without ever really waiting for him to even acknowledge or show interest in her. As Art notes, the assumptions of the heterosexuals…
These three characters are so different and yet so entwined and their individual voices shine through so well. These characters are each spectacular in all these flaws, but I thought it was Stephen who really shined through the most. He was so vibrant on every page, across every POV, being such a driving force in the journey of each of the three teens – and ultimately, driving their acceptance of themselves, and teaching them how to love themselves as he loves them.
Whilst there are moments of pain, these are always accompanied with joy and laughter, love and life: because even when dying, there is life and love and that is the legacy of these characters, this book, and the huge history on our shoulders that is left behind. This book felt like a slice of history, I could feel the power of the ACT UP movement, the unequivocal power of Madonna and the strength she gave, and even the brief mentions of Princess Diana and the way she changed the world by shaking someone’s hand.
This book is beyond phenomenal for so many reasons. For the hope, the passion, and the raging desire to fight back and be unashamedly who you are.
Rach + Draco