- my rating: 4 stars
- published: 2020 by Wednesday Books
- genres: contemporary, lgbtq+ fiction, young adult, romance
- content warnings: depictions of cancer, public outing, fatphobia, homophobia/lesbophobia/biphobia, off-page death
Will Tavares is the dream summer fling―he’s fun, affectionate, kind―but just when Ollie thinks he’s found his Happily Ever After, summer vacation ends and Will stops texting Ollie back. Now Ollie is one prince short of his fairy tale ending, and to complicate the fairy tale further, a family emergency sees Ollie uprooted and enrolled at a new school across the country. Which he minds a little less when he realizes it’s the same school Will goes to…except Ollie finds that the sweet, comfortably queer guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High. This Will is a class clown, closeted―and, to be honest, a bit of a jerk.
Ollie has no intention of pining after a guy who clearly isn’t ready for a relationship, especially since this new, bro-y jock version of Will seems to go from hot to cold every other week. But then Will starts “coincidentally” popping up in every area of Ollie’s life, from music class to the lunch table, and Ollie finds his resolve weakening.
❝ It’ll get easier. That’s the beautiful thing about the universe. It puts you through trials, but it never gives you anything you can’t handle. We grow from these things. ❞
I received this book from Hatchette Australia, though it had been on my radar way before they sent it to me. Only Mostly Devastated is a Grease inspired YA contemporary. After Ollie and Will spend the summer together, they vow to keep in touch. But Will ghosts Ollie, and when Ollie unknowingly transfers to Will’s school, Will refuses to acknowledge him or their summer. The two are stuck in an impossible situation, Will isn’t ready to come out yet, Ollie doesn’t want to have a secret relationship, and they they both still have feelings for one another.
In many ways, this could have been a lot like many queer YA contemporary I have read before. Themes around being publicly out and dating in school are common. But Only Mostly Devastating dealt with many of it’s queer themes in a way that was refreshing in it’s complexity, and it’s willingness to give space for the main characters to mess up, apologise, and do better.
Only Mostly Devastated is both a very lighthearted read, and simultaneously quite dark at times. The way Will and Ollie treat each other is often harmful, they make mistakes and deeply hurt each other over and over. This book allows the characters to experience a range of messy emotions and experiences, and exercise those emotions in ways that are not always one hundred percent positive and healthy. But I liked this messiness of this book, I liked that it allowed it’s characters space to mess up and grow, and was compassionate in it’s treatment of both characters situation. There’s also a subplot involving one of Ollie’s family members, who has cancer. This plotline added another element of darkness that for me makes this not necessarily a straight-forward fluffy romcom.
❝ Maybe our Happily Ever After hadn’t worked on the first shot. And maybe Happily Ever Afters weren’t a singular event. Maybe they were something you had to work at, and build, and never give up on, as long as they were something you still wanted ❞
I enjoyed the use of perspective and narrator in Only Mostly Devastated. You all KNOW how much I love a little clever use of unreliable narrator. Not that I would call Ollie unreliable in the typical sense, but this book is firmly in his perspective, and I liked how it pulled you along for the ride. In ways, this book had hints of Adam Silvera in how it uses narrator to depict other characters in select and oftentimes unfair lights. I also really liked how the book addressed this, pulling back from Ollie’s perspective to allow the reader to see from a different point of view. I thought Gonzales managed to draw the reader into Ollie’s perspective, convince you of it’s reality, and then destroy this reality in a really effective way.
There is also a plot line about a bisexual female character in this book I LOVED. It’s also very messy, depicting a girl who ‘kisses other girls to please men’, which, is a bit of a controversial bisexuality topic. But I thought it was handled really well, and I identified with the bisexual character quite a lot. I think showing imperfect representations of bisexuality is really important, as is reinforcing the validity of exploring your sexuality.
❝ I fled. I fled like a bigot dodging the concept of equality. ❞
As for criticisms again, once again I am complaining about the first person narration. I feel I have had to write this for so many books lately, but I just hate this perspective. Admittedly, it was used well here, so I give it half a pass, but in general I still find fourth wall breaks and first person style narration a little cringey at times. It’s just something I will never enjoy and something that always pulls me out the story, especially if I don’t find the main character funny (which I didn’t really in this books)
I also thought the start was a little slow, taking about one hundred pages to really get going which is unfortunate in such a short book. However, the book did make up for this because it really grabbed me after the first third, so it’s not a major issue.
In some cases, I might have rated this book a three star because of the slow start and writing style, but ultimately, I enjoyed the gay and bi representation so much and the depiction of messy teenagers in a positive way that I decided to bump it up to a four star.
❝ Apathy is incompatible with hate. Love works okay. ❞
Overall, Only Mostly Devastated is a neat little queer YA contemporary that offered something new to a genre which can sometimes feel repetitive to me. People who enjoy Adam Silvera for his messy depictions of characters and relationships will probably find something to like in this book. It’s a book that can often be dark, but has such a beautiful and uplifting end which positive affirmations and themes, and I really loved that about it so much. Books like this make me happy and excited for queer young adults, and the representation they will be able to find of their lives and identities within the books they pick up.
until next time!