I don't know if the author of this novel is in the habit of reading reviews on their books, but if they do, don't read this one. I think it's wonderful they wrote a novel about a nonbinary person, there should be more books where a nonbinary person is the main character, but this novel sucks. And I just found out there's a sequel... No, thank you.
Let's start with the parts I did like. I love the cover, it's very pretty. The art is by Sarah Maxwell who I am quite glad to have discovered, because look at all that lovely art! And okay, this is not actually about the novel, so what I did like about the novel is the fact that the main character is a nonbinary person. This is the first novel I read featuring someone nonbinary, but unfortunately this is not the best novel out there.
First of all, the writing style pulled me out of the story every few paragraphs. Thanks to this novel I realised it's not the 1st person storytelling I have an issue with, it's just that 1st person is more often written badly. There were a few instances when Ben assumed why someone else acted the way they did instead of letting the character's actions speak to themselves and so manipulating the reader's perception. I did not like that.
The present tense did not work at all here, it felt so weird and unnatural. I had trouble differentiating between Ben's outer and inner voice, I had to go back and check where the quotation marks closed at some point because there was literally no difference. I ended up not knowing what Ben actually said and what they didn't for most of the novel.
The other characters have no personality. If I were to read a line said by any of the characters I wouldn't know who's speaking. Except if it's Mariam texting, because they exaggerate punctuation, but that's about it, the voice is the same for everyone. And if I would have had to read one more 'or anything' I would have fought someone. I almost wish I would have counted every instance someone said it, it popped up what felt like every other page.
I liked the first three chapters or so. Ben's coming out and everything that followed was very intense and for those three chapters the author did a good job at showing what Ben felt. I felt sympathy for Ben, but then all the rest happened and I started to really, really, really dislike Ben to the point where I skimmed through the last three chapters because I couldn't stand them.
Ben is victimising themselves. They are selfish, everyone has to make up to them, every character exists in this novel to either praise Ben or to pity them and it was infuriating. For example, Ben has a talent for painting. Okay, that's valid, but they mentioned they didn't paint much before transferring to the new school, and yet, no one had any piece of advice for them. Everything they made was amazing and stunning and wow and quit your bs already! They never gave me the impression of being a prodigy, there was nothing exceptional to their art, they were simply talented. I'm sure they still have a lot to learn because no matter how talented you are there is always room for improvement especially when you only did something a couple of times before. Ben obviously didn't have all the knowledge about painting, but they are the main character so, ya know, everyone venerates every single thing they do. The only person who ever had something bad to say about the art was Ben themselves and when that happened, some other character would jump on their pity party to praise the art and tell them how amazingly talented they are.
Hannah, let's talk a bit about Hannah. She is there for Ben, trying her best to help them, sometimes she's a little pushy with all the questions, but she's doing her best, can't fault her. She's learning as she goes. Yet Ben didn't bother in a five month period to ask her what she's doing for a living, how is she affording to take care of them, what she has been up to in the whole ten years since they last spoke. Ben didn't show any kind of interest for their sister, all they did was blame Hannah for everything they went through (because, again, Ben is the main character, Ben is perfect and the world sucks, not them, never them). Didn't take one second to think about what Hannah went through. Selfish much? Yep. I was more curious than Ben was about what happened when Hannah left. What was truly infuriating was when Dr. Taylor (another member of Ben's pity party committee and a really bad therapist) blamed Hannah too. That whole scene was so cringy. Let's get this straight: Hannah was barely an adult when she left, she cut off all contact with her parents for ten years and she was not responsible for Ben. She is their sister, not their carer, not their guardian, not their mother. Whatever happened to drive Hannah out of her family house concerns her and her alone and she has no obligation to offer an explanation to anyone or to feel sorry for wishing something better for herself. Yes, Ben's parents suck, they are horrible people, but Hannah could have not taken Ben with her and is not responsible for her parents' actions.
I am not happy about how things were left with Hannah, it was not fair on her, she didn't deserve to be blamed, she didn't deserve Ben to be angry with her. What she did deserve was to be listened at the very least, and for her point of view to be taken into account. To every story there is (or should be) more than one angle, but here there's nothing but Ben's feelings and opinions. And this is not something only concerning Hannah, every single character in this novel has no history, has no unique qualities. They are there just for Ben's sake.
So no, I did not enjoy this novel. It actually pissed me off. The author said this is a book they needed when they were fifteen and that sounds about right. What I'm getting from this novel is some kid's fantasy, a kid's wet dream about how the world finally sees how great they are and everything falls into place and everyone adores them. It's not a wrong fantasy, we all were fifteen once, but, please, next time keep it to yourself. I wanted this book to be good, but it's not. I disliked the insecurity of the writing and I hoped there would be at least some character development for Ben, but I didn't even get that.