Reviews tagging Hate crime

Can't Take That Away, by Steven Salvatore

16 reviews

briereads's review

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emotional hopeful inspiring reflective medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

5.0


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ironman18's review

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dark emotional hopeful inspiring slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

3.0


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oceansofnovels's review

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emotional hopeful inspiring reflective medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes

5.0

There is so much to love about this book! I am overjoyed to see a genderqueer person as the main character. Carey has such a great support system, from their loving mother and their chosen family - the incredible twins Monroe and Joey - to their other fierce friends and their inspirational teacher, Mr Kelly. Having all of this support unfortunately doesn't stop Carey from being bullied, not only by their peers but also by a teacher who should be protecting them instead of causing harm. However, Carey's friends step up and fight back against the oppressive system that allows bigoted teachers to be so openly hateful towards marginalised students. I love Carey and their friends, and I was intrigued by the "will they, won't they" situation between Carey and Cris as they tried to figure out their relationship between misunderstandings and lack of communication. Seeing Carey step on to the stage and own who they are was a magical feeling and this story is like no other as we watched them grow into themself and find their voice while being silenced as a genderqueer person. This is such a beautiful story and I hope to read more from this author. 

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betweentheshelves's review

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emotional inspiring slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.0

Thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury YA for an advanced copy of this book to review! While this book was tough to read at times, given what Carey has to go through as a genderqueer teen, I still think it’s an important story to add to the YA genre. Plus, reading about music and musicals is always an added bonus.

Let me start by saving Salvatore's writing is fantastic. They suck you in with Carey's story and the voice throughout the book is phenomenal. Carey (he/she/them, I use they/them for the purpose of this review) feels so realistic and almost leaps off the page. Carey's friends are also well-rounded, giving the reader a full cast of diverse characters. This was probably my favorite aspect of the book overall.

However, while Cris and Carey's relationship felt mostly realistic, it does get a little tiring by the end. It's messy and back and forth, which totally fits a teen relationship. But the miscommunication, I felt, went on a little too long for the book. Mostly, the pacing for that aspect of the plot felt a little off to me. The rest of the plot, however, does feel right pacing wise.

Going in, readers should also be warned that there is a lot of queer trauma in this book. There are also mentions of suicide and suicide ideation. The main antagonist, Mr. Jackson, is one still seen too often in schools and the ending in relation to him felt a little too convenient. And maybe not quite realistic? It just didn't quite fit with the rest of the story.

All in all, if you're someone that reads for voice and character, I absolutely recommend this book for that. And the musical references! There's a playlist at the end of the book I really appreciated, too. Can't wait to see what else Salvatore comes up with! 


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thiscubed's review

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emotional medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? It's complicated
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated
so I'm super glad I stopped rating books because I have no idea how to rate this book. our main character has to go through so much trauma (suicidal ideation, misgendering, bullying, and family death to name a few) and so much of it is displayed right on the page that it doesn't necessarily feel all that uplifting, even when good shit does happen. however, you know I'm all about genderqueer characters and I really thought this was great representation, but it begs the question of it is all the trauma really worth it? like for a book that says it's an uplifting and empowering story, I didn't find it that uplifting or empowering? it was great to see a genderqueer character be unapologetically themself but idk if that alone is worth the trauma. my feelings are very conflicted.

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perpetualpages's review

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challenging emotional hopeful inspiring sad medium-paced
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated
 CWs: instances of homophobia, bullying, and misgendering; use of homophobic slurs; exploration of gender dysphoria; mentions of suicide ideation; allusions to depression and anxiety; exploration of familial death and grief; descriptions of degenerative illness (Alzheimer's); homophobic attacks and hate crimes; physical assault; graphic description of injury

This is a tough book for me to review, because I enjoyed it and I see its importance, but I also struggled with it a bit. It's described as "empowering" and "emotional," which it definitely is, but it also asks the reader to endure a great deal of trauma and queer trauma in order to get there, and I feel it's important to recognize that that will be too big of an ask for some readers, which is fair.

I want to start off by saying that stories that honestly explore queer pain and queer trauma are just as needed as stories that center queer joy. I am not interested in censoring anyone or suggesting that there's a "certain amount" of trauma that one story or one life can contain before it's "too much." That is not true. There is no metric by which we can definitively say how much trauma is "enough" trauma. That's not how life works, and I'm not interested in policing those experiences in any way.

That said, let's start with what I enjoyed. First of all, this story wonderfully celebrates a genderqueer character who uses he/she/they pronouns (mostly they/them as default, which I will be using in this review). I think the story really captures Carey's experience of fluidity, and how on the one hand, their gender variance makes them more powerful and beautiful, but on the other hand it makes them feel like an "inconvenience" to the people around them, because it can feel like every day is another coming out. In the story, they use the mechanic of wearing different colored bracelets to telegraph their gender expression for the day, but they also realize that it kind of sucks to have to depend on that kind of reductive mechanic. There's a lot of nuance in how Carey understands and explores their gender, and I really appreciated that.

Carey also acknowledges their privilege as a white, male-assumed person. Even though they don't identify as a man in any way, that's how people perceive them more often than not, and that comes with power and privilege, even if they don't "want" to claim those things. That is, in part, what makes it ideal for them to be "the face" of this social campaign calling for queer-protective rights and regulations to be installed within their school district and allow them to play the role of Elphaba. Again, I found that acknowledgement to be very nuanced, because "passing" does have an effect on power dynamics, both within and outside of the queer community.

I also appreciate how the story centers mental health and normalizes therapy. Carey has a strong relationship with their therapist, whose help they sought after dealing with depression and suicide ideation, and I enjoyed seeing their regular appointments being documented throughout the book. Mental health support and therapy can still very much be seen as "taboo" topics, when actually the process of going through therapy is healthy and normal. I appreciate how the story seeks to destigmatize therapy, and allows the reader to see what that process can look like, which could be invaluable to young readers, especially. That process also helps Carey parse through things they're facing in the story, and helps them put a name to what they're feeling and what they're really reacting to.

Another element that is somewhat of a rarity in YA fiction is the way the story makes room for contentious and complicated personal relationships. Throughout the book, Carey is hurt by people who are their friends and they also, in turn, hurt other people. Humans are not perfect, and sadly we're not born knowing how to healthily express our feelings and openly communicate. Sometimes our mistakes are what communicate our insecurities or our pain to the people around us. Mistakes are part of life, and I appreciate that this story gives its characters space to reconcile, to talk out their concerns and take active steps to make up for their mistakes, but also that it affords the characters grace and second chances. While the characters are not perfect (and who is?) they are still able to grow, which is far more important.

There's a lot to enjoy about this story. It has strong found family elements, it takes readers step-by-step through how to organize a social movement and engage in peaceful protest, it effectively explores the importance of safe learning environments, and it has a really sweet (if somewhat messy) romance where neither queer character has to "earn" the other person's love. It's all about finding and embracing your voice, even when everything stacked against you, and finding strength in community, and I think that's wonderful. The story is relatively well-paced and keeps you invested as the stakes get higher and higher.

All that said, I still had some problems with the story. As I touched on before, the ratio between queer joy/euphoria and queer trauma felt a little bit off to me. Again, being bullied, being harassed, being misgendered, being targeted are all extremely real and valid experiences that many queer teens, especially, are forced to endure just for being themselves. I'm not here to say the traumatic elements are "unrealistic," because they're not. But it's hard for me to see myself recommending this book to a young reader, for example, and promising them an uplifting and empowering queer story, because there is so much heavy content to wade through in order to get there. I don't expect everyone to want to dive head-first into a very triggering story that explicitly discusses depressive episodes, detailed suicide ideation, death threats, hate crimes, physical assault, public outings and cyberbullying, etc. etc. While it is a hopeful story that's ultimately working towards a happy ending, I see how it could potentially feel tiresome for a queer reader to have to sit with for any length of time.

Another major issue I had with the story was the positioning of the supporting cast, especially in terms of racial diversity. Like I said before, Carey is white and most of their close friends are white. The exception are two friends that they make over the course of the story: Phoebe, a young Black pansexual theater prodigy, and Blanca, a queer Latinx journalist for the school paper. I can't say whether it was a conscious choice on the author's part, but it bothered me that a majority of the labor in this story is undertaken by both Phoebe and Blanca.

It's not a stretch to say that if it were not for them and their specific experience and expertise, the whole #LetCareySing movement would never have taken off. Phoebe is doing a majority of the organization, she is the one who comes up with the plan, she plays a large part in staging the protests and petitioning the school district. Blanca, as a school journalist, has insider information to the school's publications and also has intel on a "shadow gossip site" that shares unsanctioned, often slanderous stories about students, as written anonymously by other students. She is also the one who has connections that would allow her to potentially bring that site down and name its creators. Were it not for her connections and her expertise, it's unlikely that the offenders in this story would have faced any kind of lasting consequences.

I love both Phoebe and Blanca as characters, but not only did they feel like token Black and brown characters, but they were the ones assuming almost all the labor of Carey's movement. Without their labor, #LetCareySing would not have been possible, and it is their labor that allows for Carey to be "the face" of the movement while relying heavily on their friends' work. On the one hand, I love seeing the queer community come together for each other, I love seeing friends wanting to help their friends, and I understand that the rights and protections they're fighting for have larger implications that will undoubtedly impact all of the students in the school, not just Carey. On the other hand, it's a reinforcement of how white queer folks garner recognition and come to be seen as "groundbreaking trailblazers" when in reality, they're standing on the shoulders and the labor of Black and brown communities. Regardless of intention, that's how the group dynamic is positioned, and it doesn't sit well with me.

(There were also some instances of Carey and their white friends casually appropriating AAVE, and it's never really challenged on the page. Phoebe says once that it "doesn't really work for them," but it's never brought up again. I couldn't figure out where this should fit into the review, but I thought it should be noted.)

To top it all off, I found the climax of the story and the resolution of the plot points to be somewhat unsatisfying. I won't say much to avoid spoilers, but part of the #LetCareySing movement is trying to hold a violent, homophobic teacher to account and potentially getting him to resign, and the way his storyline wrapped up felt a little bit like a cop out. And after all the trauma, all the pain, all the violence, I wanted the pay-off to be powerful, incredible, and over-the-top, but the story wraps up relatively quickly without really lingering on the joy or the triumph. I feel like a natural bookend to the story would be getting to see the production of the musical, which is what incites the whole story in the first place, but the entire production ends up being glossed over. I felt like there was a lot of missed opportunities when it came to resolving various plot points, and I think that boils down to how the story is frontloaded with all this trauma to the point where, spatially, it doesn't leave room for the ending to fully play out.

So I'm conflicted. This story is important, it does a lot of good and is eventually working its way towards hope and empowerment, and it centers a queer identity that we don't see nearly enough of in media and fiction. I had such high hopes for it and enjoyed many aspects of the story, but the way everything played out just left me feeling a little stranded as a reader. This is not to say this is a story that's not worth telling or reading, but just that it has its pros and its cons and I can see it being a polarizing book. I think my concerns with the story are valid, but I can also appreciate what the story was attempting to do.

This is a rare case where I won't be assigning a star rating. Hopefully what I've said here is enough to help you decide whether or not this book is for you. I'm still looking forward to whatever Steven Salvatore writes next, because I think they hold a lot of potential and talent, even if this book didn't end up being my favorite. 

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