What: It Looks Like This by Rafi Mittlefehldt
When: December 1st 2016
How: A copy of this novel was provided by Walker Books Australia for review.
A new state, a new city, a new high school. Mike’s father has already found a new evangelical church for the family to attend, even if Mike and his plainspoken little sister, Toby, don’t want to go. Dad wants Mike to ditch art for sports, to toughen up, but there’s something uneasy behind his demands.
Then Mike meets Sean, the new kid, and “hey” becomes games of basketball, partnering on a French project, hanging out after school. A night at the beach. The fierce colors of sunrise. But Mike’s father is always watching. And so is Victor from school, cell phone in hand.
I honestly can’t give It Looks Like This a rating because my thoughts on the book are far too complicated to whittle down to a number out of five. And ratings often correlate with recommending a book, and in all honestly I cannot recommend It Looks Like This to LGBTQIA+ teens.
It Looks Like This is a Tragic Queer Story. And by that I mean a terribly tragic thing happens in this story for everyone who is a horrible asshole to turn a sudden new leaf. I mean that a terribly tragic thing happens in this story for things to start to look okay for the main character. I mean that a terribly tragic thing happens in this story that LGBTQIA+ teens don’t need to read about.
I am not denying the need for sad stories. I know that they are important, but these kinds of sad stories have been done before. Hell, for a long time the only LGBTQIA+ books that anyone could get their hands on were these sad stories. So if someone really wants to find one then by all means it’s not a difficult feat. But right now? Right now LGBTQIA+ teens don’t need this sad story.
I had to mentally prepare myself to start reading It Looks Like This, and then I stopped reading it for about a month after 100 pages because I knew what was coming up and I just did not want to read it. And then when I did decide to finish it I read it one sitting because I wasn’t sure if I could pick it up again. If, at 23, it took me over a month to read this, to prepare to read this, then I hope it’s clear why I would never recommend this to a teen.
It Looks Like This centres around a fourteen year old gay boy who has his first semi-relationship with another boy. A bully films them making out, tells the parents of both of the boys, and posts it online. Everything pretty much goes to shit from here in a lot of different ways. The difficult thing with this story is that this happens. LGBTQIA+ teens go through this, their friends go through this. But do they really need to read about it? My answer is: not really. And I know that people’s answers may be different. But I could not willingly recommend this book to any of the LGBTQIA+ teens and young adults I work with. I would not want them reading this book where the only light at the end of the tunnel comes from a terribly tragic thing happening to them.
If I had to classify It Looks Like This beyond the Tragic Queer Story I would liken it to an acceptance narrative. Parents hate their gay son, send him to a ‘pray away the gay’ camp, and only begin or try to accept him once the terribly tragic thing happens. So, in all, It Looks Like This says: shit gets better only after it gets worse. It says: acceptance only comes after they see what they could lose. It says: you’re going to have to go through hell for acceptance to even step foot in your life.
I have to say it terrifies me a bit to see allocishet reviewers recommending this book and giving it glowing ratings because it’s a “beautiful and heartbreaking book”. I just want you to think for a minute about an actual fourteen year old gay boy picking this up and reading this and getting the message that life will only look better if you go through hell first. Because that’s not the message a fourteen year old gay boy needs. That’s not the message that any LGBTQIA+ teen needs. It’s not the message that anyone needs.
If I was going to give this book to anyone it might possibly be the parents who would willingly reject their child and send them to a camp like the one in this book. Or someone else who needs to realise that loving your child, loving anyone, means goddamn loving them.
© 2017, Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity. All rights reserved.
trigger warning: bullying, domestic violence, emotional abuse, death of a partner (drink driving), forced attendance to “conversion therapy” camp, and homophobia in this novel