History is All You Left Me
Author: Adam Silvera
Publisher: Soho Teen
Published: January 17, 2017
Rating: 3 / 5 Stars
For Those Who Enjoyed: Perks of Being a Wallflower, We All Just Live Here, At the Edge of the Universe, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, We are the Ants, Two Boys Kissing, Every Day
I’ve received requests to review this one and I’m sorry it took so much longer than I expected to write it up! But here it is!
I struggle to explain myself when it comes to review contemporaries because I feel like at the end of the day, I’m commenting on the same exact things every time. I like reading at least one contemporary per month, just to keep up with the types of important topics are being addressed in the YA market, because it’s a huge priority for my work in the publishing industry. So this one was my March contemporary read.
I do have to say, I definitely feel like I was not the target audience for this novel. I am not a young, gay boy, and thus I don’t appreciate the nuances of what Silvera’s doing with his plot and characters as other readers would. I have heard this book has earned a handful of starred reviews, which means that it must be doing something right. I just couldn’t tell you of any of its accuracies in terms of queer representation because I’m just not that demographic. Since I’m clearly not the target audience for this novel, my opinions may be incredibly biased based on my own experience, or lack thereof with the LGBT community.
My biggest thing was that at some points, it became all about the sex and it felt like almost too much, even though it was hardly graphic in any way. And it wasn’t that Silvera was falling into a gay stereotype; he wasn’t. It’s just that from my observations, that’s the conversation that always comes about when it comes to gay men and I almost wish gay narratives could take a more Troy Sivan route and give a more romantic perspective. My other issue, which may be a controversial statement, but I’m gonna make it anyway, is that by the end of it, everyone was gay. I make these two complaints not from a heteronormative point of view. I’m not looking for a chaste, heterosexual love story. I’m actually just coming at this from the point of view of an asexual reader who’s tired of seeing both sex and one single sexual orientation being showcased. It’s great that there’s so much mlm gay representation and it’s amazing that Silvera can reach out to boys out there who have experienced what Griffin has. I fully support that and wouldn’t want to take away from that conversation. But I would love for authors to take the next step and engage even further with the concept of bisexuality (which Silvera does do, however briefly), and the general LGBT+ spectrum. It seems very much as though publishers are only approving novels involving a binary of gay, straight, or bi characters and I would love to see engagement with pansexuality, asexuality, demisexuality… just all of these rich aspects of the sexual spectrum that teens are really starting to explore at this point.
A positive though, Silvera does do an amazing job of creating characters that feel real. Multiple times while I was reading, I’d find myself coming home and thinking “gosh, I wonder how Griffin’s doing. I hope he’s doing okay.” I was genuinely concerned for him and his grief. I wanted him to find closure and positive coping mechanisms for both his loss and OCD. In that sense, I liked that these were just normal people, going about their normal lives. These are just high school kids, obsessing over video games, comic books, and Harry Potter. They’re just trying to figure out who they are and I feel for that.
I do have a lot of questions for the teen runaway trope though. I think in all the contemporaries I’ve read, they’ve included the protagonist running away, whether on their bike, or bus, or car, or plane. As the pretty darn well behaved teen I once was, I can’t fathom going against my parents and hopping on a plane across the country. How does this happen? How do these kids find the money to do this? It just goes right over my head.
They’re just too crazy for me to handle, I guess… these new fangled kids, hanging out in exclusively gay social circles and hopping on planes on their own without parental consent… It’s not something I understand, so I’ll just leave it to the teens who do relate to that. Because I know they exist. And I respect that.