I loved Steven Salvatore’s first book, Can’t Take That Away, and had really high expectations for this one as well, especially after reading the synopsis. But unfortunately, I had so many issues with And They Lived. I understand that this is a very personal book for the author, almost like a memoir (or a wishful remake of the author’s own college time), which makes it very hard to criticize it. But nevertheless, I can’t give it more than a two star rating for the triggering content and the annoying or stereotype characters.
One of the things I loved most in Steven Salvatore’s first book was the wonderful, unique and loveable characters, which is why I was so surprised and disappointed by the characters in this book. The main character, Chase Arthur is starting his first year at college. He’s a hopeless romantic obsessed with finding his true love, but believes that he’s not enough for anyone, due to his body and gender dysmorphia. But when he meets Jack Reid, a writer student looking for a fresh start away from his hometown while struggling with his own sexuality, it might just be Chase’s time to finally live in a fairytale of his own.
At first, I loved Chase’s quirkiness and rooted for his struggles with gender-identity and body dysmorphia. But the further I read, the more annoyed I got with his selfishness, his inability to realize what his friends were going through and how he pushed Jack to come out when he clearly wasn’t ready. Jack was a sweetheart, but I felt like we never got to know him more than the stereotype closeted jock, and I never felt any real chemistry between him and Chase, sadly. Most of the other characters were either horrible (like Chase’s dad) or not fleshed out enough to make you fully root for them.
I really want to give Steven Salvatore kudos for addressing a lot of difficult issues, like eating disorders and fatphobia, depression and suicidal thoughts, homophobic parents, outings and gender identity struggles, but I wished it had been executed in a way that hadn’t made them feel as triggering. Sadly, the story now came across as fatphobic and queerphobic in itself. Additionally, there were some really cringy sex scenes. I usually love sex positivity, but here the sex scenes felt way too explicit for a YA book.
The best part was the note by Steven Salvatore at the end, which brought tears to my eyes when reading about their own struggles growing up. I wish so much that the actual book had made me feel the same way.
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This was such an adorable and entertaining own voices-story with a genderqueer protagonist, Carey, who wants to be a diva like their idol Mariah Carey. It was full of wonderful, well-rounded characters, amazing friendship and parental support, activism and cute first love, and everyone’s right to be seen and feel safe. Just be aware of the homophobia and bullying that might be triggering to read about.
I absolutely loved the first part of this book! Carey was such a wonderful, unique and loveable character and I loved their friends and family, and not to mention the amazing teacher Mr. Kelly. He must be the best fictional teacher ever, I’d really hope for persons like him to exist in the real world too! I also really shipped the cute romance with Cris, even though it might be bordering to insta love.
The author did a wonderful job describing Carey’s gender fluidity, and the concept to start each chapter with the pronouns Carey identified with at the time was brilliant. When more and more of Carey’s backstory and the reason they no longer wanted to perform in public, my heart ached so much for them. I also really loved the auditioning for the musical part and it got my hopes up for Carey to really start healing. But unfortunately, a school bully and a homophobic teacher thwart Carey’s participation in the musical, at the same time as Carey discovers that Cris has been lying about some very important things.
After this, the story started to drag a bit. I did appreciate the way Carey stood up for themselves and how their friends all stood behind them, but the rallying and protesting part went on for a bit too much and felt a little too unbelievable to keep me fully engaged. There was also a lot of drama and miscommunication in the romance part that felt unnecessary and made me ship the romance with Cris a little less in the end.
But all in all, this was a wonderful and empowering story about finding the courage to be your most authentic self, with amazing representation and the important message to never let anyone take your voice away. Highly entertaining and told in a refreshing new voice!
I definitely want to read more books by Steven Salvatore!
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