I received this book for free (hey, thanks!) in exchange for an honest review. I promise that this does NOT affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. For real.True Letters from a Fictional Life by Kenneth Logan
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Published by Harper Collins on June 7th 2016
Format: ARC (336 pages) • Source: Around the World ARC Tours
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If you asked anyone in his small Vermont town, they’d tell you the facts: James Liddell, star athlete, decent student and sort-of boyfriend to cute, peppy Theresa, is a happy, funny, carefree guy.
But whenever James sits down at his desk to write, he tells a different story. As he fills his drawers with letters to the people in his world--letters he never intends to send--he spills the truth: he’s trying hard, but he just isn’t into Theresa. It’s a boy who lingers in his thoughts.
He feels trapped by his parents, his teammates, and the lies they’ve helped him tell, and he has no idea how to escape. Is he destined to live a life of fiction?
This one got me going in ways I didn’t expect. I don’t read a lot of coming out stories (and admittedly, unfortunately, few QUILTBAG stories in general). I loved Simon and hated Cut Both Ways. This book had whispers of both books, but luckily landed more towards the LOVED end of that particular scale.
Right off the bat, I loved the characters. James and his best friends Hawken and Derek had such great personalities. They were all funny too. At times, laugh-out-loud funny. I particularly thought that Hawken was such an excellent, supportive friend. He did nothing but try to help James and understand his perspective… even at times where most friends would have been nervous or scared away. Derek had his own way of being supportive, but he was great too. I loved the various get-togethers they had and just observing them as a group of friends. While I did enjoy all of the parties and gatherings, some of them felt a bit unnecessary. There were lots of different events that didn’t necessarily advance the plot or character development. I did like that it felt like this book was a “slice of life” instead of only focusing on the coming out piece. We learned about his whole life and those more random events just fleshed it out, I guess.
Some of the other important characters were the members of James’s family. I don’t want to spoil their ~feelings~ and reactions to the “coming out” part of the story, but I will say that I liked them overall. They seemed like very realistic parents to me. Aside from them, Rex was ADORABLE. I loved his personality so much. James’s other brother, Luke, only appeared a few times via phone and in-person at the end, but it was enough to make me wish he was around even more. He was awesome too.
The letter-writing element definitely reminded me of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. James’s private letters get sent out to people who were never supposed to see them, and it opens up a whole can of worms. James frustrated me during this time period of the book a little bit because he jumped to a lot of conclusions about who could have done it. He got angry without having real evidence towards anyone and without even asking them about it first. He had a little self-destruction go on and it was hard to read.
The writing style felt very simple and accessible. At times, I thought it was a little too straightforward and could have used a little more OOMPH. But, I am usually a person who likes that kind of easy style, so I was happy that it didn’t feel super literary and hard to read. I hope others (especially those on the cusp of coming out to people in their lives) can then read and connect to this story.
I was a BIG FAN of the ship in this too. I loved their banter and thought it was just so cute. I was happy to see a healthy, supportive relationship. I won’t spoil anything else 😉
One thing I had trouble with – although please understand that my knowledge on this is VERY minimal – was the setting. This one takes place in Vermont, which is easily one of the most liberal states in the US. I was really sad (and surprising, kind of?) to see how people who live in this state reacted to gay people. I do NOT want to generalize obviously and say that all people in Vermont are liberal or that it’s any more gay-friendly than other states out there… but it just made me curious. I know that there will be shitty people in EVERY state who are homophobic, but I would have GUESSED (again, no actual proof to this) that some folks in Vermont would be generally more accepting towards him?? I don’t know how else to phrase this without sounding like I’m generalizing an entire state, but hopefully you’re picking up what I’m putting down. I think that the town’s reaction in general to gay people, and HIS feelings about coming out, could have more to do with the fact that he’s an athlete with a girlfriend. Something surrounding the societal expectations for athletes and the “manly men.” Ugh. I hate the patriarchy.
ANYWAYS, I think this book is (a) super important and (b) incredibly worth reading. Between the characters and the overall message, I hope that so many people enjoy this book, as well as find it helpful in their own process.
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