Heat Factor: So pure. Like, shy first kisses pure.
Character Chemistry: Off the charts.
Plot: Teen boy has no interest in dating, is dared by his peers to date anyone who asks. Other teen boy asks.
Overall: I am dying of the sweetness.
First, the cover of this book is completely adorable. It is why I requested to read it. I did not realize that I would be crying real tears when I did.
The story is told from the perspective of Kai Sherridan, a mixed-race, half-South African, gay teenager who is still completely and entirely in the closet in his senior year of high school. He’s not even out to his best friends. Other than contributing to the teen angst of being an outsider, Kai’s race and his father being from another country doesn’t play a huge part in the story. It’s a part of who he is, but it’s not the focus of the story.
Kai is terrified of being rejected. Personality-wise, he’s super shy, so it makes sense that he’s sort of folded in on himself. He’s known he was gay since he was thirteen, and he’s only told one person ever – his best friend who never spoke to him again after his confession. His parents attend a church where the pastor condemns homosexuality, and he’s overheard his parents talking about how homosexuality is a sin. Parental rejection isn’t an uncommon theme in these coming-of-age sorts of stories, but I don’t think I’ve consumed one since I became a parent, and I couldn’t help thinking that my heart would break in a thousand pieces if my children felt like they couldn’t be themselves for fear of me rejecting and not loving them. Heterosexist assumptions can be truly harmful, and I just wanted to wrap Kai up in a hug. Cue all the tears.
Fortunately, Kai’s friends have hearts of gold. And his little sister, who is thirteen and drinks coffee every morning (?!), is fabulous. Also fortunately, Bryson Keller is an unqualified cinnamon roll.
The story begins when all these high schoolers are at a party and talking about dating and love, and the most popular boy in school, Bryson Keller, poo poos dating. In the way of ridiculous teenagers, he is then dared to date the first person to ask him out every week for three months. The possibilities for this premise are excellent, yes?
Flash forward a few weeks. The dare has become a talking point at school and girls are actively competing to catch Bryson first thing on Monday mornings. Which is how Kai ends up having a very bad morning–a series of unfortunate events that Kai attributes directly to this stupid dare. For this reason and this reason only, when Kai finds himself in the position of being the first person to ask Bryson Keller out, he does it. A revenge ask, if you will. And opens a can of worms.
Suddenly Bryson is the only one who knows that Kai is gay. But Bryson’s dare is so popular that, even though Bryson agrees to date Kai and keep his secret, other kids at school simply can’t resist trying to figure out who exactly Bryson is dating for the week. Meanwhile, Bryson seems to be signaling that he’s actually romantically interested in Kai. This budding romance is so adorably high school I could hardly stand it. Remember when holding hands with the person you liked was a big deal?!
The contrast between Kai, who has known himself and has been struggling with his identity for years, and Bryson, who suddenly realizes he’s interested in another boy and is super comfortable with it, brings home how much external factors can influence us. Bryson still has to come out, but he doesn’t fear rejection for doing so, even after he realizes how heterosexist or homophobic his world is once he starts dating Kai. Kai, meanwhile, has been living in a world of recognizing every heterosexist and homophobic thing for years, and feels like college will be the only safe space for him to finally be himself.
It’s sort of unfortunate that van Whye limits sexuality into a binary gay/straight narrative. Human sexuality is fluid and this outlook is unnecessarily limiting. BUT the story is told from the POV of a teenager, so it’s really not unreasonable for such an outlook to exist. Without robust and proactive sex education (either at school or at home or whatever, but someone has to be educating, right?), how likely is it that teenagers are going to understand just how big the world of sex really is? I have been learning for decades, and I still am. I could readily buy in to Kai’s feeling that if his peers were dating members of the opposite sex, then they were straight. Van Whye creates a space in which we can see that what we observe on the surface is not the whole story, but we make assumptions based on the superficial information. I should note that Bryson doesn’t suddenly realize he’s gay. He realizes that he’s attracted to Kai and is open to exploring what this means to him.
TL;DR – This book is totally sweet and gave me all the feels. Check it out.
I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.
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Looking for something with similar vibes? (Tears of sweetness not guaranteed.)