Daniel, Deconstructed

Inkyard. Feb. 2024. 304p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781335010025.
Gr 9 Up–High school senior Daniel (Black, Cuban American) adores Live Action Role Playing (LARPing), info-dumping, his best friend Mona (described as having “tawny brown” skin), and most of all, taking photographs and creating videos for his school’s weekly broadcast. Daniel’s camera helps him experience the world as a detached spectator, as he’s less inclined to see himself as the main character in his own life. That’s why, when the handsome and fascinating Gabe (Black, nonbinary) enters the scene, Daniel sees Gabe more as a love interest for Mona than for himself. To convince Mona and Gabe how perfect they are for each other, Daniel hatches a plan to attend the homecoming dance as a trio. The affections of Gabe and Mona, however, may lie elsewhere. Much of the plot also describes how Daniel navigates his environment as an autistic person. Neurodivergent readers may relate to Daniel’s self-monitoring of his facial expressions, his tendency to overstimulate in certain scenarios, and his frustration with the allistic world’s lack of straightforwardness. Though certain plot points feel underdeveloped or extraneous, and the LARPing scenes sometimes slow down the novel’s overall momentum, it cannot be denied that Ramos is skilled at depicting Daniel with ease and tenderness, without erasing the daily realities associated with being a Black, queer, neurodivergent teenager.
VERDICT Ramos’s worldbuilding is at once authentic yet wholesome, while never veering into the saccharine. While Daniel himself would prefer not to be in the spotlight, romance readers will not be able to get enough of him as a protagonist.

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