A review by bookishmillennial
If You Still Recognise Me by Cynthia So

emotional funny mysterious reflective sad tense 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? No
disclaimer: I don’t really give starred reviews. I hope my reviews provide enough information to let you know if a book is for you or not. Find me here: https://linktr.ee/bookishmillennial

The worst thing is that I’ve never been able to figure out whether this sense of being set apart from others is something that I’ve internalized, so that I just feel like I’m unwelcome because of my long history of not fitting in, or whether it’s something that’s really happening to me in the actual moment, that I really am being treated differently, in a way I can’t articulate but can only feel because life has made me uniquely sensitive to it.

I absolutely adored this story about Elsie, Joan, and all of the queer honeys around them! This is everything I love about contemporary YA coming-of-age stories.

Chinese-British 18-year-old Elsie's exploration with her gender expression and her unrequited feelings for her online fandom bestie Ada (biracial Nigerian American) were so incredibly tender and moving. I cannot believe this is Cynthia So's first novel because they masterfully wrote a story with a carefully subdued, but artfully introspective narrative.

This book was packed with so many magical and beautiful themes and tenets of queerness, growth, and community! First of all, I could not get over how delightful the representation of fandom culture was! Elsie and Ada first connected through virtual fandom spaces due to their love of comic book series Eden Recoiling, and end up talking every day, becoming close friends. Elsie's crush that she develops on Ada is SO REAL OMG!

Elsie did "the most" by searching for Ada's grandma Rebecca's long lost "friend," Theresa as a way to impress and make a grand gesture for Ada, but here's the thing. I have been there. I can't sit here and pretend I didn't pull some embarrassingly extra and sometimes invasive bullshit to prove I was good enough for someone I had a crush on, while I was in this state of "PLEASE LOVE ME" and needing validation like air. Simultaneously, it's almost self-sabotage-ing as well, because you then get to say, "See? I'm horrible and they would never like me." It's a pitiful circle of despair and insecurity, and it's incredibly relatable and authentic to being a young adult and fumbling as you figure it out.
Ada and Elsie do discuss how it was invasive and Elsie should have communicated that she had interest in doing this. It did invade Ada, Rebecca's, and Theresa's privacy regardless. I don't condone anyone disrespecting anyone else's privacy! I do appreciate that Ada and Elsie had an honest dialogue about doing better in the future though, and Elsie is lucky it turned out okay! I think this goes to show none of us are infallible, and we have to take accountability and be fully transparent when we do miss the mark. Elsie does learn this lesson, however messy it was! And I do think she was projecting her own feelings onto this quest too, as she spent 7 years wondering what happened with her long lost best friend Joan, and 8 years wondering why she no longer saw her Uncle Kevin. Rediscovery is such a powerful theme in this book!
Siri, play "love is embarrassing" by Olivia Rodrigo. CS absolutely read us (read: past friendships that you look back on and think, 'omg, that was SO gay of me to pine after my bestie and I didn't even know it) to filth with the pining, longing, angst, second-guessing, embarrassment, daydreaming, and hope that comes with crushes, especially those we endured on our besties. 

Another part of this book that I deeply appreciated was the representation across the board and the diversity of Elsie's family and friends group. There is an ace side character (won't say who so I don't spoil it for you!), Joan, our super hot masc butch lesbian, Elsie who is bi and queer/questioning her gender expression as she navigates a bit of dysmorphia and examining when she truly feels like *herself*, and multiple ethnicities represented too! Elsie's other sapphic bestie Ritika is Indian-British, and I actually think she handled most of the unprompted mess from Elsie very well - she was so direct, honest, and patient lol. I love a cast like this because it represents the world I live in. It represents the world I see when I go to the bookstore, or to the library, or to the shopping mall! I would absolutely watch a Freeform or Netflix tv show about these kids' coming-of-age stories!

Another part of this was the generational representation of elder queer folks, like Rebecca and Theresa.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention Uncle Kevin's introduction and his backstory, especially the disowning by his parents/Elsie's grandparents. Elsie's curiosity and determination in finding Theresa to reunite her with Rebecca, along with her wonder as to what happened to her uncle Kevin is so tender!
My friend @atmreads (IG) recently has been talking about how they want to see their communities grow old. Reading about elder queer folks who were just as dynamic, lively, hopeful, fierce, and full of self, platonic and/or romantic love was absolutely heartwarming.

Something else that really stood out to me was Elsie's ruminations on her past boyfriend, who we learn was extremely toxic and emotionally abusive. She also begins to recognize that he has documented behavior of fetishizing and sexualizing API women, and this is a fucked up truth to contend with, especially as an 18-year-old. Gosh, my heart hurt for her as she realized this in hindsight. This was another reason I appreciate pushing back on the "perfect victim" narrative, because does Elsie's past trauma forgive her current messy behavior? No, absolutely not. It does provide a bit more context for me though, and I appreciate the layers of discomfort and sadness that Elsie was working through introspectively, on top of everything else!

Okay, let me just get to the main romance between Joan and Elsie now, which felt like the warmest hug, and made me feel reminiscent of how I feel whenever I watch Nick and Charlie or Elle and Tao on Heartstopper, or any episode of Sex Education or Never Have I Ever. I felt giddy, hopeful, and nervous! I had butterflies as Joan and Elsie made their ways back to each other, first as friends after seven years of Elsie wondering what happened to her long lost bestie (my god, the miscommunication! the assumptions! the sad girl vibes!), and then again romantically! I smiled so hard when Elsie and Joan share a moment of Elsie exploring gender expression and feels so incredibly affirmed. It's such a unique, magical and humbling feeling. 

I am in awe of CS, and will read whatever they write, even a grocery list! 

rep: Chinese-British MC, biracial (Nigerian & white American) side character, Indian-British side character, questioning characters, ace-spec side character 

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