Can friendship, Star Trek, drama club, and a whole lot of coffee get two nerdy best friends through the beginning of their senior year of high school?
Meg and Linus are best friends bound by a shared love of school, a coffee obsession, and being queer. It’s not always easy to be the nerdy lesbian or gay kid in a suburban town. But they have each other. And a few Star Trek boxed sets. They’re pretty happy.
But then Sophia, Meg’s longtime girlfriend, breaks up with Meg. Linus starts tutoring the totally dreamy new kid, Danny—and Meg thinks setting them up is the perfect project to distract herself from her own heartbreak. But Linus isn’t so sure Danny even likes guys, and maybe Sophia isn’t quite as out of the picture as Meg thought she was. . . .
From crowdsourced young adult imprint Swoon Reads comes Meg & Linus by Hanna Nowinski, a fun friendship story about two quirky teens who must learn to get out of their comfort zones and take risks—even if that means joining the drama club, making new friends, and learning how to stand on your own.
I wanted to like this book. It was cute and enjoyable at times, but also extremely frustrating.
It was nice to see nerdy protagonists who are into school because they like learning, not just because they have to be there to survive in the world. Linus talks about his love of numbers sometimes, which was great to read. I’m more of a music and words kind of person, a little like Danny in some respects, so it’s nice to have a different perspective. The characters are also highly relatable, even if Meg annoyed the heck out of me a lot. Despite that, I really liked her relationship with her mother. And Danny was definitely a highlight of this book for me.
I wanted to say some nice things about this book since it wasn’t all bad, but there is a lot of bad. So strap in. I’m frustrated and need to vent. I have a few things to cover so I’ll save the one I’m gonna rant about until the end of the laundry list.
I’ll touch on the craft-level issues I had first before getting into the numerous representation issues. The writing really isn’t very good. There’s a lot of unnecessary repetition and, if I didn’t have a vague idea of how author pay works, I would be wondering if the author got paid by the exclamation mark or something. She could’ve cut 90% of them without any trouble whatosever. This, however, was all overshadowed by the problems with the rep.
First of those: our old friend, ableist language. TW: I’m including censored ableist slurs in a sec. It’s bloody everywhere in this book. And there is never a good reason for it. No characters are doubting their own mental wellness or anything. So it’s completely superfluous and downright frustrating. Some chapters you can’t go two pages without “cr*zy” or “ins*ane” popping up.
This isn’t my lane, I’ve also noticed some cissexism about the way attraction is spoken about. It didn’t come up often, but characterising sexual orientation as the kinds of body parts you’re attracted to is weird as hell. Like… trans people exist, and you don’t necessarily know what body parts people have unless they tell you or you happen to see them. Let’s be honest. They’re talking about genitals, just in a roundabout way. It’s been established time and time again that gender =/= genitals. We’ve got to stop making these basic-level mistakes already.
I’m also not wholly comfortable with the way Linus’s weight is treated at times. This also isn’t my lane, but lines like “He has kind of a round face and he’s more than a bit… rotund” rub me the wrong way. In this particular case, his weight was already mentioned in the previous sentence already so this borderline euphemism was unnecessary in the first place and gives off vibes that being fat is something negative that you have to tiptoe around. I don’t know if I’m reading into things, but that’s the feeling I got.
The thing that really got under my skin: the inconsistent inclusiveness of bisexuality. Early in the book, Linus says “even if he’s gay or maybe bi” but then Meg says in another chapter, “we don’t know if he’s gay.” This is a pattern. The book will occasionally nod to the fact bisexuality exists, but then the next time it is conspicuously absent. And don’t even try to tell me it’s meant to show one character is biphobic/bimisic without condoning it, because it is not addressed in the text. Furthermore, the character who paid vague attention to bisexuality falls into the same trap later when he says “and Danny might not be gay” so… there goes that argument.
Furthermore, the moments where we are acknowledged are usually tacked onto the ends of sentences talking about how he might be gay, like we’re an afterthought. By itself, I probably wouldn’t have been so annoyed, but that combined with the erasure makes for one really gross cocktail.
I thought we were done with that when the sexuality speculation dropped off as we entered the second quarter of the book, but then it cropped up again 2/3 through. Because apparently I am not allowed to have a moment’s peace.
The thing is, inclusion isn’t a “one and done” thing, where you can pay some bare-minimum lip service and then stop trying. You have to be consistent. Giving a nod to the possibility of bisexuality is meaningless if you undo all that work next time. There’s a world of difference between “I don’t know if he’s gay” and “I don’t know if he’s into guys.”
The fact this book has given a few rare and half-assed acknowledgements that bisexuality exists, only to ignore us every other time, gives the impression that the author cared more about dodging criticism than actually being inclusive. You can’t just throw us scraps on occasion while continuing to erase us anyway.
The thing is, when you erase bisexuals, you erase other people, too. We’re something of a canary in a coal mine when it comes to queer rep. People who erase us also tend to erase pansexuals, asexuals and aromantics. Often, they erase binary trans and nonbinary people as well.*
*Some nonbinary people ID as trans, but not all. Hence the separation.
This book is a recent release. It’s 2017. Bisexuals have been talking about erasure for years. We’re getting to the point where you have to actively ignore us in order to not understand this.
The constant vacillation between bare-minimum acknowledgement and outright erasure completely spoiled any enjoyment I could have for this book. Without that issue, I might’ve given it a three-star Goodreads rating instead of two.
Get it together, authors. Bisexuals are human beings, too. Stop treating us like this. I’m sick of having to brace for mistreatment every time I read a queer book that isn’t by a bisexual author.