What: 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?
Disclaimer: 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