Many thanks to Wednesday Books and Sophie for providing me an ARC of the book. All opinions expressed are my own.
Title: Only Mostly Devastated
Author: Sophie Gonzales
Publication Date: March 3rd, 2020
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Genre: Contemporary, LGBT+
Age Range: YA
Trigger warnings: Biphobia, fatphobia, homophobia, death
Synopsis: Summer love…gone so fast.
Ollie and Will were meant to be a summer fling—casual, fun, and done. But when Ollie’s aunt’s health takes a turn for the worse and his family decides to stay in North Carolina to take care of her, Ollie lets himself hope this fling can grow to something more. Dreams that are crushed when he sees Will at a school party and finds that the sweet and affectionate (and comfortably queer) guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High.
Will is more than a little shocked to see Ollie the evening of that first day of school. While his summer was spent being very much himself, back at school he’s simply known as one of the varsity basketball guys. Now Will is faced with the biggest challenge of his life: follow his heart and risk his friendships, or stay firmly in the closet and lose what he loves most.
The Characters: Sandra Dee, Bi Rizzo, and a Whole Lotta Jocks
Only Mostly Devastated features a large, dynamic cast of characters that can be a little hard to keep track of, so here’s the basics of what you should know.
First, there’s Ollie, our sweet, loyal protagonist who can also be an unreliable narrator. He’s awkward but earnest, and his outlook on life is more than a little skewed because of his feelings, but deep down he always has good intentions. It’s obvious from the very beginning that Ollie would do anything for his family, and he continuously steps up in small ways without ever complaining about having to uproot his life in California to move to North Carolina.
And moving to North Carolina does have its perks, like suddenly living in the same state as Will, who is the Danny/Troy Bolton/alpha male jock of his high school. But Ollie knows Will as someone totally different – the key difference being that no one at school seems to know that Will is anything but straight. Will is used to fitting in with the crowds, and has more than a few reservations in being his true self around the people who have known him since elementary school.
Luckily for Ollie, he gets adopted by The Roses almost right away. I think it’s safe to assume that The Roses are our Pink Ladies in Only Mostly Devastated, if only because Lara is most definitely Rizzo. She’s joined by Juliette and Niamh, and all three girls are dealing with struggles of their own as they tuck Ollie into their tightknit group. As a talented flutist, Juliette is doing her best to ace her audition at the Conservatory, while Niamh is struggling with maintaining a positive body image and the self-confidence she needs for modeling. Meanwhile Lara, who Ollie identifies as a bit of a mean girl right off the bat, is more complicated than she first seems. Lara is easily the most fleshed out of Ollie’s friends and the one he gets the most real with, and I really enjoyed reading their scenes together.
No one deserves to be outed against their will.
The Plot: Met a Boy (Sweet as Can Be)…then He Crammed into a Supply Closet with Me
I love how, even though Ollie is our narrator, we get to see the very real and various problems that all of the other characters have to deal with as well. Ollie is understandably confused when he gets to school and Will, who was very much out during their summer romance, ignores him and shuts down whenever his basketball team friends even hint that he might be romantically involved with Ollie – but there’s more to it than that. There usually is.
Throughout the book, Will repeatedly prioritizes his friendship with the guys over Ollie’s feelings, and always tries to apologize for it afterwards. While this admittedly gets frustrating pretty fast, I can also understand where both Ollie and Will are coming from. As someone who’s comfortable in his identity and who has already come out to his family, Ollie doesn’t care what people think about who he wants to make out with, but over the course of the book he realizes that his experience is not universal. Not everyone has the same support system that he does, and people require support manifested in different ways. While it’s slow-moving at best, Ollie and Will take steps towards individual progress that allow them to eventually take steps together as a couple, and I think that’s an important message in and of itself.
Life was too short to play chicken with something as important as the person you loved.
Reasons to Recommend Only Mostly Devastated
After reading other reviews, I realized that one of the main things that made Only Mostly Devastated enjoyable for me was that it was most definitely set in a high school setting. Some conflicts and serious, bigger issues are sort of glossed over throughout the book, but while that might have to do with word count, I also think it has something to say about how hard it can be to confront your friends and classmates about their behavior. Throughout the book, Will consistently goes along with his friends and banters with them even if he doesn’t necessarily agree with what they’re saying, because it’s easier in his mind to laugh it off than to try and push back. Juliette (and later Ollie) intervenes when Niamh and Lara get into it and tries to rightfully push Lara to apologize, but since Lara isn’t the apologizing type, their expectations are lowered and they take what they can get. That doesn’t make it right, but it does make it relatable.
One of the central themes in Only Mostly Devastated is the lengths that people go to in order to fit in, and how damaging that can be to them in the long run. Suppressing your identity, your feelings, your dreams – the things that make you you – shouldn’t be a requirement for getting through high school, but that is the reality for a lot of people, of all ages. Problematic behavior gets glossed over in favor of “keeping the peace,” and isn’t always confronted the way that it should be. The point is it shouldn’t be the reality, and I think that’s what Sophie Gonzales is really trying to say.
Sophie also doesn’t shy away from death as a theme, which is pretty rare in a book that’s marketed as a YA contemporary romance. The book is set into motion because Ollie’s Aunt Linda has cancer and his family moves to North Carolina to help out and be there for her, and there are times when things get heavy. My grandpa passed away because of leukemia when I was 11 years old, and I remember being scared out of my mind when my grandma was diagnosed with breast cancer years later because of that, even though we knew at the time that she was going to be completely fine. I loved the fact that Only Mostly Devastated, while it shows exactly the kinds of complicated, messy politics that teenagers have to face every day in school, also shows the heavy stuff they have to face when they get home. And I’m really glad that it does.
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