Genres: Romance, Contemporary Romance, Young Adult
Publisher: Macmillan, Wednesday Books
Source: My shelves
Eighteen-year-olds Ruben Montez and Zach Knight are two members of the boy-band Saturday, one of the biggest acts in America. Along with their bandmates, Angel Phan and Jon Braxton, the four are teen heartbreakers in front of the cameras and best friends backstage. But privately, cracks are starting to form: their once-easy rapport is straining under the pressures of fame, and Ruben confides in Zach that he’s feeling smothered by management’s pressure to stay in the closet.
On a whirlwind tour through Europe, with both an unrelenting schedule and minimal supervision, Ruben and Zach come to rely on each other more and more, and their already close friendship evolves into a romance. But when they decide they’re ready to tell their fans and live freely, Zach and Ruben start to truly realize that they will never have the support of their management. How can they hold tight to each other when the whole world seems to want to come between them?
TL;DR: two boys, chilling in a boy band, five feet apart because they’re not gay (spoiler: they actually are!).
I’ve had this one on my priority TBR (i.e., “to read immediately!!) list since its release. @onceandfuturebooknerd posted a recommendation for it and I was immediately hooked by the premise: two out of four boys in a boy band fall in love, and have to hide their relationship. I’ve always been drawn to books that highlight the dark side of fame (à la The Happy Ever After Playlist and The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea), and this one was no different, if a bit on the idyllic side.
It’s worth noting that I haven’t been navigating towards young adult romance all year (or even the last couple), unless it’s in a fantasy setting. Somehow the end-of-the-world scenario feels more relatable than ones that highlight regular adolescent struggles?? I guess?? I’m not that old. That said, the conflict pitted the couple and the boyband against management, public persona, and each other. It’s a high-stakes story that stands in for the regular conflicts of teenage-dom: finding yourself, feeling controlled by others, boundaries between you and the public, navigating relationships with toxic parents, tussling with race, culture, classism and sexuality, substance abuse and mental health, etc.
Part of me wants to protect him from the realities of being queer, and how it changes things in a million subtle ways. How it always leaves you a little certain if things are fair, or if there’s a tiny, shred of hate underlying it all. How, much of the time, you can’t even call it out without turning people against you and calling you overly sensitive, because it can be so insidious, you’re the only one who notices it for what it is.
As the book follows a boyband, it very much stood in the shadow of One Direction… it would be impossible not to. But it did a good job separating itself with its own identity; more diverse, different dynamics, and a new origin story of meeting at music camp. Of the four cast members, Noah is (presumably) white, Reuben is Spanish, Jon is biracial and Asian. I don’t remember a conversation about Noah’s race/culture, so I don’t know if it’s my own subliminal bias or the authors that lead to the assumption that he’s white. I loved a good found family/close friendship/friend-group portrayal in books, and this one was no different. But Jon and Angel felt very much secondary, better than props to support Noah and Reuben, but still not as dynamic as I would have liked. That said, they were all given space to discover themselves as they fought to be seen and heard, and I appreciated the dynamic we got from them (even if I wished we had a tiny bit more).
In If This Gets Out, we have two characters at two different places in their queer journey. I really appreciated the acknowledgement of the two processes, and specifically the recognition of how a coming out can go. Much of modern-day queer stories show good people reacting perfectly and bad people being horrific, but that doesn’t really cover the spectrum of nuance available. In this one, Noah’s mother fucked up as Noah was telling her, even though she loved him very much. It was nice to see a well-meaning and kind-hearted liberal parent mess up a moment not out of intended malice, but because she’s human, taken by surprise, and a bit tired. On the juxtaposition of this, we have Reuben’s mother, who sincerely loves her son, but is also exceptionally awful. I always appreciate books that give space to show characters navigating difficult family relations, that show the shades between understanding and acceptance, and just cutting off the toxicity.
“The freedom to be ourselves, and express whatever truest version of ourselves we know of to the world as we see fit, is the most important freedom we have.”
However, this book wasn’t a perfect win. I really enjoyed it, but honestly, it dragged hard in the beginning when the two boys kissed and then avoided each other. I thought Noah acted poorly, and it was never really acknowledged, but it was also hard for the reader to reconcile, because we didn’t get a lot of time with them together as friends. There was no slow burn here, as I’d expected, instead Noah felt a flutter of something in the moment, acted on it, and off we went. This whole section, in the very beginning, already felt off-brand and forced, which wasn’t a good start. It eventually gained it’s footing, but I think it would have gained a lot to have added more a slow burn start to things, to set things up correctly and let us get to know the four boys and learn their dynamic better before it all changed.
If the attention given towards the four boys felt lopsided, the relationship felt even more unbalanced. I found Noah to be incredibly frustrating, which frustrated me, because the whole point of protagonists is to allow them to be flawed. He was relatable! But I was terribly exasperated by him and his antics. I don’t think his character was as coherent as Reuben’s, and he never had to answer for or acknowledge some of the hurt the caused. I didn’t know him the way Reuben did. When they did come together, I felt them to be genuine and charming, but I still couldn’t help but want more, more, MORE!
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