I went into reading it wanting to like this book. I really, truly, wanted to like it. I’m giving it three stars because it’s actually a pretty good book, personal feelings about Rafe aside. But it’s PAINFULLY obvious it’s a YA book sometimes. I say this as someone who loves the YA genre to bits and is reading mostly that and fanfic these days. There are some completely fabulous YA books out there.
This is still above average in a lot of ways, but in other ways it’s smack in the middle ground, and most of those ways are Rafe. Our narrator of this interesting-concept story would be a lot more interesting to me personally if I wasn’t spending pretty much the first two-thirds of the book alternating between cringing with second-hand embarrassment and just wanting to straight-up smack some sense into the kid. And yes, I understand that that’s part of his journey, but it’s one of the things that just annoys the hell out of me. The idea of the story is interesting, the setting could be fun to explore, but I really didn’t connect to any of the characters, and Rafe is just so self-absorbed and does some really stupid things.
It sounds like I hated the book — which I didn’t, really — and for someone else this could definitely be a great book. I’m clearly not a target audience. I wanted it to be as original as Simon Vs or Fan Art, and it wasn’t. Rafe isn’t Simon or Jamie. And yeah, Simon and Jamie both have cringe-worthy moments, but I still connected to them and to the worlds through their eyes more than I did Rafe and his world. It’s inevitable to compare those books, despite them being set in very different situations, because at the heart they’re actually all just a queer boy figuring out his sexuality and identity and love while surrounded by High School drama and friendships and families and everything else.
Rafe comes at all of this from the opposite direction of the other two, and I wanted that to be something unique and interesting to explore, but in the end it felt flat. I had a couple moments in the last quarter of the book where it started connecting on an emotional level, but it was too little too late for me. Hopefully not for someone else, but I personally needed more out of it, and it just never quite lived up to that potential. Even the ending felt unsatisfying, despite a few nice bits in the wrapping-up part. I wanted more out of it, so I ended up disappointed. Which, now that I think about it, is kind of appropriate in a meta sort of way.