Yep, I knew I was going to like this one before read a single page when I saw a quote from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s famous “Love is love is love” speech he made the night after the Orlando nightclub shooting, as one of the opening quotes. That made my heart happy, and so did this story of Tanner and Sebastian. Feels. I have lots of them in the afterglow of this book. Having read a handful of Christina Lauren’s ‘new adult’ genre books, I was intrigued to see how they would translate to the young adult audience. Success!
Tanner Scott knows he’s bisexual, it’s not a passing phase but kissing boys isn’t something he’s had a whole lot of experience with either. Although his family is beyond supportive, he still hasn’t outed himself to his best friend of the last few years, Autumn, but that has more to do with where he lives more so than her. He and his family moved from progressive Palo Alto, California when his mom left her job at Google to start up a company in Provo, Utah. Home of the Latter-day Saints, better known as Mormons. His mom was hesitant to move the family, mostly due to her own experience with the church. Her sister, Tanner’s aunt, is gay and after Church prescribed conversion therapy didn’t work, she was kicked out of her house. That didn’t sit well with his mom, and she stepped in, which lead to them never speaking to her family again. To this day, Tanner has never met his grandparents and probably never will. He’s definitely heard all the bad the church can do but is at odds with the kids he sees at school. Smiling. They are always smiling, and it even seems sincere.
Tanner has one semester left of his senior year, and all he has to do is keep his grades in the A range to appease his college admissions. Autumn suggests that he takes The Seminar, an oddly revered class of very special someones who have the task of writing a novel in four months time. Tanner has zero desire to do so but acquiesces to Autumn’s pleas and enrolls. Last year’s Seminar yielded a standout, Sebastian Brother. His fantasy book is published and his second book is due to come out soon. When Sebastian, son of a Mormon Church Bishop, walks into Seminar the first day to mentor students, Tanner cannot stop looking. And, is Sebastian looking back?? Tanner’s preoccupation with Sebastian feels obvious to him, but he tries to keep it in check. Nothing good will come from the other LDS kids knowing how he really feels. Him lusting outright in front of others is not the way he should go about this, but when Sebastian begins helping him on the weekends with his book, he is a goner. And when they go on a long hike together and kiss, he dies. Tanner knows this isn’t just a physical attraction and soon his book is mimicking his own life. He knows he should stop writing it because of the obvious parallels; it won’t be hard for his teacher to put two and two together. But the more he and Sebastian are together, the easier it is for him to write. Sadly, the romance ending he envisioned doesn’t quite live up to the expectation. For one, there is a lot more crying.
This story isn’t just for those looking for romance because the struggles that Sebastian endures by trying to reconcile his church teachings and beliefs to who he indeed is, is something that many people suffer. And to be clear, this isn't a religion bashing book. In the Author’s Notes, it states this book came about after years of Christina working as a counselor in Utah who saw teens who “honestly believed, devastatingly, that their parents would probably rather have a dead child than a queer one.” This book doesn’t have a perfect ending, it’s pretty close :)), and Sebastian and Tanner are full of flaws, but the message and all the feels you will get reading it are so very worth it.