Reviews tagging Physical abuse

Can't Take That Away, by Steven Salvatore

3 reviews

averyconfusedhomosapien's review

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emotional funny hopeful informative slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

2.25


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merlesstorys's review

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dark emotional hopeful inspiring tense slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? It's complicated

4.75

My first introduction to a genderqueer person outside of the Hollywood biz as I don’t know one irl (at least as I know of) and it was really good.

I liked the writing style of Steven Salvatore as their depiction of queer youth today resonates with stuff I’ve experienced so far and they take a deep look at the feelings of their main character, Carey as well as the ones of their friends. 

Which brings me to the characters in this book and I honestly love them all so much, it’s indescribable. Carey with their love for music and musicals, Cris with his unbelievable Charme, Monroe with her amazing fashion taste, Joey just for being a good ally, and Phoebe with -again- her love for musicals. They all get their peaks throughout the book and that is just amazing - and the most important thing in “Can’t take that away” is the friendship, not the ‘boo-friend’… I love it.

Next to the starting situation: it’s such a good idea, to show the main character in their natural habitat aka music/als with their ambition to become Elphaba, and just as well as her, defy gravity. Pun very much intended. 

The only critic I have is that the ending is a bit too much for me. (Not the actual ending, but what happens after Carey and Cris are reunited. I don’t want to spoil more) 
This small section means unfortunately a quarter star down from five stars, but that’s literally the only thing I didn’t like.

Also, can we please talk about the hardcover artwork? It’s insanely gorgeous (please insert the Gaga meme here about being amazing etc. :D)

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ninegladiolus's review

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challenging emotional slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

3.0

Can’t Take That Away by Steven Salvatore was one of my most anticipated 2021 releases. A genderqueer diva using the power of song for self exploration and affirmation? Yeah, that’s my brand. Plus, I’m always on the lookout for books with genderqueer and genderfluid representation since it’s still one of those identities rare to see discussed and explored within the LGBTQIA2S+ umbrella. However, I ended up with really complicated feelings about this novel that I will do my best to outline below.

First, let’s start with the good, since there were absolutely awesome things about Can’t Take That Away. The genderqueer representation was one of my favourite things about this novel. Each chapter opens up with the set of pronouns the MC Carey uses for the period of time discussed in the chapter, and there are tons of introspective and thoughtful interrogations by Carey of their gender. The fact that their friends are, by and large, accepting and affirming of their gender is really sweet and cool to see. Carey definitely exists outside the binary authentically, and that was wonderful for me to see, as I’m sure it will be for others.

Queer characters being allowed to be messy and flawed is another favourite of mine, and we got to see so much of that in Can’t Take That Away. The romance, while I’d maybe dispute the ‘swoonworthy’ adjective on the cover copy, definitely felt raw and vulnerable. Neither Carey nor Cris had to perform or hide parts of themselves, for better or for worse, and when so many stories involving queer romance rely on those sorts of interactions, it was good to see the realism. Therapy is incredibly normalized in this book to help support Carey through their struggles, and we do love to see that. Frankly, I’d love to see it in so many more contemporary YA novels, particularly ones where marginalized voices of all sorts can be supported and affirmed in a professional sense. There’s also lots of found family and strength of community in this novel.

However, there can be such a thing as an overwhelming amount of trauma. I want to make it clear that I fully support queer and marginalized voices writing about their lived experiences of trauma. For so long, BIPOC and LGBTQIA2S+ creators (and especially those who are both) haven’t been given the space to tell those stories, whether they are painful or joyful or everything in between, and I try to cultivate mindfulness of that reality.

That being said, the ratio of queer joy to queer pain in Can’t Take That Away is… a lot. I’m a trans, non-binary adult with years of therapy under their belt at this point, and this novel was a tough read for me—let alone a young adult in the intended audience looking for an empowering queer story. There are definitely moments of validation, joy, empowerment, and triumph, but the amount of trauma the reader is asked to endure to get them feels wildly unbalanced. The novel starts with an instance of bullying and misgendering on page two, and that pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the story. Homophobia, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, hate crimes, and gender dysphoria predominate, along with a side plot revolving around familial illness and grief. Is this “realistic” for the world we live in? Unfortunately, yes. Do I think those are important subjects to explore and do authors have the right to do so? Absolutely. But when I think of a young, questioning genderqueer teen picking this up looking for affirmation and empowerment, my heart breaks at how much they would have to go through to get to what is, in my opinion, not nearly a big enough payoff.

Another thing that really made me uncomfortable is how much onus was put on two women of colour for the #LetCareySing movement. Without the driving action of the side characters Phoebe, a talented Black pansexual actress, and Blanca, a Latinx lesbian journalist, the movement centering Carey wouldn’t have happened. Though Carey did take some action on their part as well, the bulk of the labour felt like it was done by Phoebe for most of the novel, and later Blanca. It mirrors the real life issue of white members of the queer community receiving and/or taking and/or stealing credit for labour done by BIPOC of the queer community, often without compensation of any kind. I loved Phoebe and Blanca, especially Phoebe since she got more screen time, but I really wished they hadn’t felt like accessories to “Carey’s” movement despite doing so, so much work for it.

The last topic I want to discuss may be more of personal issue, but it bothered me while I was reading so I’m going to include it. I’ll preface this by saying labels are by and large a tool for individuals; I support using whatever labels make you feel safe, affirmed, and comfortable. But I thought it was incredibly strange and a little uncomfortable that Carey, a genderqueer protagonist who introspects at length about gender identity concerns, uses he/she/they pronouns, and exists loudly outside the binary, never identifies as trans on page at any point during the novel. (Again, I realize not all non-binary/genderqueer/genderfluid individuals identify as trans and their reasons are their own). Not only that, but all of their friends are cisgender (to my knowledge). In a novel so full of gender-related discussion and violence, and especially in a novel where queer activism is a key feature, I found it jarring to see such a stark distance from the trans community—or even any other non-binary or genderfluid or genderqueer character—in its pages. In my own journey, it is through seeing the lived experiences of trans folks that I have gained a sense of community and helped affirm my path, and I would have loved to see that for Carey since I think they could have used that kind of support.

These are my personal reflections and not an absolute judgment of whether or not this book is Good or Bad (if such a thing exists at all). Overall, I feel this book will be impactful and mean so much a lot to many people. Carey’s identity is explored beautifully on its pages, there are lots of meaningful and affirming interactions between the community that builds around Carey, and it is great to see activism among queer teens being shown to have a real world, positive effect. There is value to be found and I hope for those who decide to give this one a shot, they find the affirmation and catharsis they need. I’ll be keeping my eye on what Steven Salvatore writes next for sure.

Thank you to Bloomsbury YA and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

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