Author: Sophie Gonzales
Publication date: March 3, 2020
Genre: young adult, contemporary, romance, LGBTQ+
My rating: 5/5 stars
Cute, queer, and oh-so-diverse, this might be my favorite book I’ve read this year thus far. Only Mostly Devastated is essentially a gay retelling of Grease, only with more humor (and emotions), broader social awareness, healthier relationships, and none of the “change the most fundamental aspects of your personality just to please a boy” nonsense that fills the end of the original musical. In other words, it is everything the world of light, contemporary YA thrives on, and I am so here for it.
Quick plot rundown: Ollie, an out-and-proud gay teen from California, spent his summer at the lake in North Carolina, where he managed to fall in love with a pretty sweet guy named Will. The two part ways at the end of the summer, only for Ollie to find out that, because his aunt has cancer, his family is going to stay in North Carolina for the year…and that Will has ghosted him. Right after starting out at his new school, Ollie is shocked to find that his new school is also where Will goes. And, of course, Will is on the basketball team and very much still in the closet, so as far as his friends are aware, he and Ollie have never met before, much less dated. As Ollie falls in step with a fierce trio of girls, he has to wrestle with the fact that the boy he loves might not be in a place to openly love him back right now–and that it isn’t his fault.
Where do I even begin with this story? It hit all the right notes. (Unintentional musical pun, though I guess it’s fitting, since Ollie does play bass in a band–ah, the wonderful contrast of the angsty band kid with the cocky sports boy!) The whole story is told through Ollie’s voice, which is a winning blend of sarcasm, angst, optimism, self-doubt, and casual jokes, coming off very much like a casual conversation with a friend; kid you not, I was fighting to keep from laughing out loud at some of his miniature tirades. Because of a combination of the easy-to-read narration and its shorter length (under 300 pages!), this was an incredibly fast book and provides a maximum sweetness-per-page ratio.
Beyond the writing itself, I know I like to talk about books that have great diversity in them, but seriously–the diversity in Only Mostly Devastated is top-notch. I’m not just talking about the fact that multiple main characters are POC–Will, for example, is Hispanic, and there is actually a scene with his family hosting a Mexican Thanksgiving dinner–no, they cover plenty of other issues. A character has PCOS (seriously, I’ve never seen that condition represented in a book, so I found the inclusion of that pretty cool). A plus-size girl wants to go into modeling and faces fat-shaming from peers. A queer character (not Will or Ollie) grapples with the prospect of coming out. Multiple characters confront the differences between their parents’ pressures and desires for them and the careers they themselves want to pursue. For such a compact volume, the way it is able to touch on all of these topics without feeling flippant or insensitive is particularly impressive.
Sophie Gonzales manages to imbue all the characters in this book with an authentic vibrancy, creating a cast and a storyline that you can’t help but fall in love with. It is adorable. It will fill your heart, then break it, then put it back together again (with some fabulous glitter glue, probably). Yes, for a while, the book may leave you mostly devastated–but only mostly. To paraphrase a movie I love, “There’s a big difference between mostly devastated and all devastated. Mostly devastated is still slightly hopeful.” And it is the omnipresence of that hope that makes this story so enjoyable.
Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for granting my wish! I was provided with an eARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.