The Feeling of Falling in Love

Scholastic/PUSH. Aug. 2022. 336p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781338777666.
Gr 10 Up–Neil Kearney has his life right where he wants it: he’s far away from his complicated family life, is fully out as trans with his classmates at his boarding school, and has a steady friends-with-benefits situation happening with his longtime friend, Josh. Then Josh declares his love for Neil, and it all falls apart. Now Neil needs to find a new date for his brother’s wedding in California, and the best choice at such short notice is his annoying roommate, Wyatt. But the more Wyatt and Neil hang out, pretending to date to present a united front to Neil’s bigoted relatives, the more they realize that they might be falling for one another, despite their differences. Neil’s friends are racially diverse and most identify as LGBTQIA+. The plot tackles such issues as family bigotry and unacceptance, class divisions, and self-introspection. Neil in particular must confront his thoughtless, selfish tendencies and own up to hurting others, which doesn’t come naturally to him after a lifetime of feeling inadequate and out-of-place. Readers will enjoy standard romance tropes, such as fake dating and “there’s only one bed.” Deaver writes about gender and identity in thoughtful, respectful ways that help center the individual experience and make it clear that everyone has a right to their own journey and feelings. The plot struggles to move forward due to uneven pacing and an often unlikable main character. Readers might have trouble relating to Neil, who comes from extreme wealth and privilege and tends to overlook other people as side characters in his own story. Characters are sexually active and sex scenes are present, though appropriately handled for a YA audience.
VERDICT Only buy for a robust collection that can use more LGBTQIA+ fiction.

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