Read an eARC from NetGalley
Content warning: hate crime, homophobia, misgendering (challenged), racism, stalking, murder, anaphylaxis, death of a child, PTSD, anxiety
Autistic, non-binary Sam Sylvester left Montana with their single dad, Junius, after nearly escaping a hate crime with their life. They move into the former home of Billy Clement, a teen who died of an allergic reaction thirty years prior. Sam collects half-lived lives, stories about teens who didn’t live to nineteen. They take the opportunity for not only a fresh start but also to solve the murder with their group of queer friends. But when they get closer to the truth, someone works really hard not to ensure they don’t reach it.
With an excellent, multi-dimensional cast and incredible exploration of chosen family, this mystery will tug at the heartstrings and frazzle the nerves until its very deserved happy-for-now ending.
I am so excited to have the author on my blog on May 3rd, release date.
For every bit of joy to be found within this book’s pages, there is an equal amount of hardship. There is the joy of finding your people for the first time, but also the incredible heartbreak in the form of not being able to trust those new connections. Junius is one of the most incredible dads I’ve read about in any book, but there is still the parent-child rift between him and Sam, especially the ways their lived experiences diverge. This tug and pull at the heartstrings makes for incredible pacing, especially as Sam and friends get closer to uncovering what really happened to Billy Clements.
The queer rep in this book is simply beautiful. I love the dynamic among Sam, Shep, and Sky, but also the way they interact with the non-queer kids around them. The contrast between Sam’s Montana life and Oregon life are stark but there are similar echoes of non-familiarity to queerness among those outside of Sam’s circle. It lend well both to awkwardness but also life-threatening terror. The way MacGregor allows room for typical high school experiences like a school dance amid Sam dealing with PTSD. MacGregor also seems to understand how teens relate to each other, especially with the way Sam group chats with their friends and uses Tumblr as an outlet.
I am not of the correct marginalization to comment on the autistic rep, but I will say that the book brings it up as another facet of Sam. It’s got nothing to do with the plot, but everything to do with Sam as a person. The fact that it is relevant at all turns of both the story and character development is really well-executed.
Given that the author is also queer and autistic, I trusted them to not have the story end in tragedy. The pieces of the mystery also come together in a satisfying way. But my lord, was I in tears over the hope in the ending, and how there is more to life than just the inevitability of death.