I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Published by Bloomsbury on March 8, 2022
Source: the publisher
From the author of Can't Take That Away comes a sex-positive, fairytale-inspired YA novel that celebrates first love and self-acceptance, perfect for fans of What If It's Us.
"My heart didn't stand a chance. I loved it from once upon a time all the way to its joyfully complex ever after." - New York Times bestselling author Becky Albertalli
Chase Arthur is a budding animator and hopeless romantic obsessed with Disney films and finding his true love, but he's plagued with the belief that he's not enough for anyone: he's recovering from an eating disorder and suffers from body dysmorphia fueled by his father, and can't quite figure out his gender identity. When Chase starts his freshman year of college, he has to navigate being away from home and missing his sister, finding his squad, and contending with his ex-best friend Leila who is gunning for the same exclusive mentorship. If only he can pull together a short for the freshman animation showcase at the end of the semester.
Then Chase meets Jack Reid, a pragmatic poet who worships words and longs to experience life outside of his sheltered world. But Chase throws everything into question for Jack, who is still discovering his sexual identity, having grown up in close-knit conservative family. Jack internalized a lot of homophobia from his parents and childhood best friend, who unexpectedly visit campus, which threatens to destroy their relationship. Chase will have to learn to love--and be enough for--himself, while discovering what it means to truly live
I think this is the hardest book I’ve ever had to review because of how hard it punched me in the gut. It was just… Amazing, wonderful, perfect. Powerful. Meaningful. It broke me in the best possible way. There were moments when I had to stop reading. Just had to put the book down and take a breath. Chase’s struggles with his body image/body dysmorphia were painfully relatable. One line in particular, especially:
“When I heard him tell mom that I’d never find anyone to love me because of how I looked, I cried myself to sleep.”
I’ve actually had someone in my life tell me this. That no one would love me unless I lost weight. That line was a gut punch because I knew exactly how Chase was feeling in that moment. It hurts when someone you love says shit like that. It hurts and it leaves mental and emotional (and sometimes physical) scars.
Another line that stood out: “People like me rarely get the storybook ending.” Because.. Ouch. That’s a mood. It was uplifting and heartwarming to see Chase get his HEA because it gives me hope that maybe I will, too, someday.
Jack’s coming out story was wonderfully handled. Often times, it’s the queer MC who has the coming out narrative, so it was refreshing to see a secondary character/love interest get that instead. And Jack was such an interesting character, in general. His character development was amazing.
I loved Benny so much. He was hilarious and an amazing friend. Most of his lines made me laugh out loud. Like: “This is truly the gayest thing I’ve seen in a really long time. And I looked in the mirror this morning.” Truly, Benny just had me cackling the whole time. Chase’s whole friend group was amazing, honestly. It made me nostalgic for college and the friends I could have made, had I known then that I was queer. It was easy to picture myself in Chase’s position, especially given that CIA was based on my real life alma mater, Ithaca College. I could easily picture myself on campus, living Chase’s life and story. Being friends with Benny and Sofia and Chloe; meeting a Jack of my own..
Anyway, I digress. Tangent done, heh. Anyway. My point is, this book was just wonderful and relatable and perfect. Also, incredibly sex positive, which I think is super important for teens in general, but especially queer teens. Teens need to see what a healthy, consensual relationship – romantic and sexual – looks like. This book covered so many important topics, my review doesn’t even touch the surface of what it covered – including (but not limited to) Chase’s struggle with his gender identity. There are some TW’s for misgendering, outing, homophobia, bulimia, and a few other things. This book also encourages – even normalizes – the idea of seeing a therapist and struggling with suicidal ideation/thoughts.
This book just let me feeling so raw and vulnerable an exposed, but also hopeful and warm. Like everything would be okay eventually. I fell in love with this book on page two. I hugged it when I finished it. I laughed. I cried. I just… Could keep babbling on and on about it, but I honestly don’t think my rambling is doing it the justice it deserves. So I just highly recommend you go ahead and buy it and read. Steven Salvatore, you broke me with this one. Thank you, truly. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for writing this story. I needed it. And I’m sure many others did, too.
Now that I’ve written an incredibly emotional review that has left me feeling incredibly exposed and vulnerable… *Clears throat.* Please go read this book. I’ll be over here hiding now… *Runs away.*