Thursday, October 12, 2017
Book Review: 'You Know Me Well' by Nina LaCour & David Levithan
I have always been extremely picky with reading LGBT YA because they are either a near-hit, or a miss. Not even a hit or miss. A near-hit or miss. In other words, even with LGBT YA books that I have enjoyed, I still take issues with a few things here and there. They may not necessarily be because of the LGBT elements, but still, I don't think I have ever felt the inclination to rate an LGBT YA book the highest possible rating, until now.
My main issue with LGBT YA books is that, 9 times out of 10, they are usually what I like to call a painful coming out story - a gay or lesbian character going through large amounts of stress while coming to terms with who they are because of the unfortunate heteronormative society and culture we live in. I do not disrespect or devalue that these stories are important; I understand that YA books are, for the most part, aimed at teenagers and for LGBT teenagers, coming out is a large part of their experience. I've been told that if I'm looking for books with LGBT stories that don't have to deal with coming out and the (unnecessary) stress therein as main issues, I shouldn't be reading LGBT YA books. But I still disagree. I still think that despite coming out being a large part of the LGBT experience for gay teenagers, most of the LGBT YA books I've encountered don't shed light on what it's like to live and be alive as a gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender/queer person AFTER the "coming out" process, outside of the quintessential suburban high school experience. You Know Me Well does.
You Know Me Well is about Mark, a baseball player who is in love with his best friend and sometimes boyfriend Ryan, and Kate, who is scared about an impending relationship with a girl she has wanted for a long time. Mark and Kate have sat next to each other for an entire year, but never really exchanged more than a few words until their paths cross when Mark and Ryan have sneaked into a gay bar at the start of Pride Week in San Francisco, and Kate has run away from her chance to meet Violet, the girl she has wanted forever. Mark and Kate develop a fast connection and bond almost immediately over his turmoil for Ryan playing with his feelings and his heart, and her anxiety over leaving for college to be an artist also while trying to juggle how she wants to be with Violet. The chapters shift between the two characters' perspectives, with Nina LaCour writing Kate and David Levithan writing Mark.
Not only does You Know Me Well provide an insight to what it means to be LGBT outside of coming out in high school suburbia, but the book doesn't shy away from including coming out whatsoever. It just isn't told with the two main characters, which I value and appreciate. While I do value coming out stories for what they represent, I happen to be much more interested in queer stories about living as LGBT people. Coming out isn't the whole story for gay teenagers; it's just the beginning, and hopefully in the future, it won't have to be such an ordeal. There are other stories to tell with LGBT teenagers, like finding your footing on living in a gay culture that's all your own. That culture has always been out there, and You Know Me Well gives gay history a subtle nod by having its story take place in San Francisco with scenes taking place in the Castro, one of the best known and most important gay neighborhoods in history.
All of this to say, You Know Me Well accomplishes what other LGBT YA books fail to include: life as gay people outside of high school, even when in high school. I can't be the only one who picks up LGBT YA books and read the back covers thinking, "Is this it? Stories of being blackmailed over your sexuality and having your straight girlfriends get jealous over who the gay boy came out to first? Is this all? There must be more," and I finally found the more I was looking for in You Know Me Well. I read reviews from several people on Goodreads who said they enjoyed the LGBT elements in this book but only rated it 3 or 4 stars at best because they thought the friendship between Mark and Kate was way too fast-paced and unrealistic; they become close within a week and are sharing their deepest, darkest secrets and apparently, that's unrealistic. Maybe it's just a connection they both felt so strong, so quick? An LGBT connection, perhaps? Interesting how the thing you take issue with is the friendship between a boy and a girl who aren't even straight when there are so many other things to enjoy and appreciate in You Know Me Well. Ugh, heterosexuals have to ruin everything with their opinions. Go read your Colleen Hoover and Jennifer L. Armentrout novels and leave these ones alone then.
I highly recommend You Know Me Well to anyone who likes LGBT YA books, even if you enjoyed some that I have blasted because they deal mostly with the coming out process. This book is an outstanding entry to the genres of both YA and LGBT literature, and I hope others will read it and appreciate it the same way I did. 5/5 stars.