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look-pastWhat: Look Past by Eric Devine

Who: Running Press Kids

When: October 4th 2016

How: A copy of this novel was provided by Running Press for review via Net Galley.

Someone brutally murdered Mary Mathison, daughter of a prominent and very conservative local pastor, and Avery, a transgender boy who loved Mary, is bent on finding her killer. He goes to the crime scene to do some investigating, but is quickly put in harm’s way. Reluctantly, Avery must move to the sidelines to wait for the police to do their job.

However, following Mary’s funeral, Avery receives the first in a series of disturbing text messages that can only come from the killer, revealing that Avery is now a target. The killer claims that Mary’s murder was revenge for her relationship with Avery. The killer’s demands are simple and horrific: Avery must repent for changing his gender identity, or he will be the next one killed.
Now Avery is torn between finding the murderer and protecting himself from a killer who is playing a disturbing cat-and-mouse game. Can Avery deny who he is to catch Mary’s killer? Or will sacrificing himself be the ultimate betrayal?

2cats2Disclaimer: I’m cis, and the main character in this book is trans. I encourage you to find reviews from trans readers in addition to reading my review of this title.

I have … complicated thoughts on Look Past. On the one hand, the fact that it’s a queer mystery/thriller YA is incredibly exciting. On the other, I wasn’t the biggest fan of quite a few aspects – some of which were just passing things, and some of which were main themes in the book. So I guess I will elaborate on those, because even though I appreciate the fact that this is a mystery/thriller with a trans MC, which is so freaking important, and that I wanted to read on to find out everything … Look Past wasn’t the most enjoyable book for me.

1) The characters were quite violent

And I don’t mean the murders, because that is to be expected. I mean Avery and Avery’s girlfriend (who I have forgotten the name of). Example: Avery drives around really fast with his girlfriend in the seat beside him. She asks him to slow down a few times, and then when he does stop the car and they get out, she punches him so hard he falls to the ground, and then she kicks his leg so hard she breaks his phone screen. I get that being in a car with someone driving recklessly is scary. But resorting to violence to demonstrate your unhappiness and fright at that is so 100% not okay.

Another example: this total douche says something really awful to Avery, and Avery jumps on him. Bullying is shit and horrible and no one should have to go through it. But I am also not on board for punching someone whenever they say something that hurts you. Avery’s mother actually kinda congratulated him on it, too, which was a bit unbelievable and uncomfortable.

So yeah. I wasn’t on board with the casual violence from the characters in Look Past.

2) A queer youth group facilitator would never ask the attendees to sympathise with allocishet people

Avery goes to a queer youth group in the novel (which is great, because these are actual things that queer young people attend, and the lack of them in YA novels is ridiculous), and the topic of image and society’s expectations came up. The facilitator then asked the group to think of how these things affect allocishet people, too. Yeah … no. No way in hell. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a facilitator who would ask queer young people to take into consideration the trials and tribulations of allocishet people. It just wouldn’t happen.

3) The religious aspect was somewhat cliché

A lot of mystery/thrillers can have a religious element, but I almost feel as if it’s been done too many times. I think that focussing on religion as the driving force for murder/torture/stalking/harassment etc. would have to be really well done for it to bring something new to the table. And I just didn’t feel like Look Past was incredibly different to other “murdering religious fanatic” storylines that I have seen and read in the past.

4) The targeting of Avery

I don’t really know if I was comfortable with the fact that all of the bad things happened  in Look Past because Avery is trans. I’m not oblivious to the issues that the trans community faces, but I don’t know whether or not using Avery’s gender identity as the trigger for the murder of the love of his life was very tactful. It kind of felt to me like it sent a message of “shit will happen to you and the people you love because you’re trans”. Which I didn’t like. At all.

5) Some things felt very … ‘cis writer writing a trans character’

There was just an essential feeling of this throughout the novel. To me, there were a few scenes where I felt quite uncomfortable with how things were written. For example, the reader finds out Avery is trans because someone attacks him in an incredibly transphobic way. I don’t feel like this was the most sensitive or respectful way to introduce Avery as a trans character.

~

Overall, I was mostly disappointed with Look Past. I can appreciate the story in general, and the fact that this is the first YA mystery/thriller that I’ve read with a trans main character. However, there were a few too many things that stuck out at me as negative and somewhat problematic for me to really enjoy it.

© 2016, Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity. All rights reserved.

trigger warning: transphobia and trans antagonism, physical assault, bullying, domestic violence, murder, suicide themes, and police brutality in this novel

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Posted on: October 28, 2016 • By: Chiara

8 Responses to Five Problems I Had With Look Past by Eric Devine

  1. Oh dear, I have heard many problematic things about this book from trans reviewers, so unfortunately your thoughts have only sealed the deal for me in terms of knowing I don’t want to read it. It seems like such a shame, to be honest; as you discussed in an earlier post, there are not nearly enough LGBT+ thrillers/horror books out there. Still, I think it is better to hold out for those that sensitively & tactfully represent the community in the ways that we all hope for. Regardless, it is always lovely to hear your thoughts, my friend. Thank you for sharing them with us. <3

    • Chiara says:

      I was so incredibly excited for this title, which is why I was so disappointed when I found so many problematic elements within its pages. I will still continue to read as many LGBTQIA+ mystery/thrillers as possible, because there have been some gems, and there will be more in the future, too. Hopefully. No problem, lovely <3

  2. Romi says:

    Okay, so we’ve chatted about this one quite a bit and although there are aspects that do make it an important book, I know I’m not going to read it (or be able to read it, even) because of most of the things you’ve listed here, trigger warnings included. And I mean, I don’t read a whole lot of mystery/thriller, but I just wish this could have been a mystery/thriller with a trans character as the MC that just shot every other mystery/thriller book out of the water, rather than – played on sterotypes, I guess, and been potentially harmful and offensive in so many different ways.

    All of your points in this review are very on point, but the one that really got me? Number. Two. Wow. That just seems so incredibly besides any point at all. A Queer Support Group is about Queer Support. That is what it is for and that is why people go – not for the betterment of non-identifying people. Not to make others happy. It’s to get support. It’s important to not be a horrible person, of course, which people should learn/know BUT… I just don’t comprehend how this could have gotten into a book?
    xx

    • Chiara says:

      I am so incredibly sad that this didn’t turn out to be as amazing and important as it could have been. I really wish it could have been a game changer, too.

      Yeah, that had me completely baffled, to be honest. I find it SO VERY HARD to believe that any queer support group would ask the young people to sympathise, especially when they had been talking about how society’s expectations are hard for THEM. Sigh.

  3. Oh no, I’m sorry this didn’t work for you and on so many levels. I was really curious about this one, but the summary did have me worried about the whole “targeting someone because they are trans.” That’s crazy about the youth group too! It’s great to include a group like that, but I don’t really see a leader telling these LGBT+ kids to think about cishet characters when they have enough to deal with it already. Craziness. The casual violence would drive me nuts too.

    • Chiara says:

      Me, too! I was quite disappointed with the aspects that I mentioned in my review, especially about Avery being targeted because he’s trans. Cishet characters in mystery/thrillers don’t get targeted for being cishet, so I wish that Avery hadn’t been targeted for being who he is. And yes, the queer youth group thing was something I could not believe in any way.

  4. Jackie B. says:

    Bah. This makes me so sad. Honestly, I don’t think I could get past the violence of the characters, but there are so many other things you disliked, I don’t think I’d be able to read this. It sounds like you felt a lot of this book was forced? Your final observation seems to hit things on the head: cis writer writing a trans character.
    I am glad diversity is being embraced, but this is why #OwnVoices is so important. We need realistic interpretations of these characters.

    • Chiara says:

      I was quite disappointed in this book for quite a few reasons, which is pretty sad because we need LGBTQIA+ books that aren’t just contemporary! But this one was not really the book I’d been hoping for.

      I really hope that publishers realise how important ownvoices are ASAP!

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