There are some movies that can only be described as “iconic.” Star Wars. Footloose. Big Hero 6. Avatar (the one with the tall blue aliens, not the M Night Shyamalan travesty that we DO NOT speak of). Grease is definitely one that belongs on this list as well.
So, when I received a proof of Only Mostly Devastated through work (thanks 5 Get Bookish, you absolute babes), I was probably the most excited I’d been in a while. Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales is a queer retelling of Grease that fits with the general vibe, with a splash of High School Musical basketball jock, and some of the cut-throat teen bitchiness of Heathers thrown in for good measure.
We start off meeting Ollie, our young, gay hero, after a whirlwind summer romance with the mysterious, hunky Will, reeling from his family’s decision to move from sunny California to the equally sunny (but slightly less open-minded) North Carolina, in order to look after his Aunt Linda, who is in and out of hospital undergoing treatment for cancer. Naturally, it’s just in time for Ollie to start Senior Year and start over, whilst trying to make some new friends before graduation. A brief chat in homeroom (the US equivalent of form time) with his three new friends quickly reveals that Will is also at the school. Yeah. That Will, from the lake, and the 4 a.m. make out sessions under the stars…
Only problem is, Will is still so far in the closet, he’s having tea with Aslan.
Will is the equivalent of Troy Bolton, star of the basketball team, loaded with family expectations of pursuing the sport as a career, as well as the cultural baggage relating to his sexuality, that comes from his LatinX parents and their views.
As the story progresses, you get to know both Ollie and Will better, and start to feel like part of their respective friend groups. Ollie, as the narrator, becomes more and more confident, both in terms of his “relationship” with Will, and in his own self awareness. Rare in a YA book, he’s more than willing to call himself out on his own rubbish and sucky thought process (ironic given how much he rails against his mum’s attempts at mindfulness), especially towards the end of the book. It is also a really good example of how to deal with homophobia, and I wish that I had the self consciousness and awareness that Ollie has when I was his age. I also wish I’d had a muscly, basketball playing boyfriend with abs you could grate cheese on and a jawline that could cut glass, but that’s neither here nor there…
I have to admit, I cried a fair few times reading this. Anyone who knows me will know that this isn’t really that much of a surprise, I cry at everything. But there were a few moments that hit me really hard. Some of Aunt Linda’s scenes at the hospital are so accurate, they cut deep, and Ollie’s constant balancing act of family/friends/school/Will/himself is a true reflection of trying to be everything to everyone.
Only Mostly Devastated had a special nostalgia for me; when I was 20, I spent a year living and studying at UNC Wilmington (GO SEAHAWKS!), about an hour south of where this story takes place in the fictional town of Collinswood, so the odd little references to colleges around the state (NC State and UNC Charlotte being the main ones mentioned) gave me little jolts of the warm-fuzzies.
I cannot wait to be sitting on a beach this summer, with a cocktail in my hand, rereading this. Even though there are some heartbreaking parts, it is, in my mind, the perfect summer read.
Only Mostly Devastated – Sophie Gonzales ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐