First Time for Everything, Henry Fry (2022)
Our hero Danny is smart, funny, and good-looking (if in a buttoned-down sort of way), but when we meet him, he’s sleepwalking through his life — with his boyfriend, in his living situation, in his friendships, and in his career. But after some big shocks and increasingly severe panic attacks, Danny realizes he needs to wake up: to stop making himself small for others’ comfort and advocate for what he wants — but even more frightening, first, he needs to figure out what it is he actually wants and needs from his life and those in it.
I really loved this book and read it in a single sitting. I thought the satire of contemporary urban and queer cultures was spot-on, the writing and narrative voice deployed the best kind of British wit, the relationships within it were complicated and realistic, and I enjoyed the way it uses Danny’s weaknesses, blindspots and failings to touch on important issues of privilege and marginalization, internalized classism and homophobia, intersectionality, and ‘passing’. But for me, as a gay man who, like Danny, doesn’t feel like I fit in either the dominant straight culture or queer subculture, I found it to be profoundly relatable. I loved the way the book addresses some of the more toxic aspects of contemporary queer culture while celebrating the ways it is healthy and beautiful. I also appreciated the realistic, if troubling, journey Danny takes as he swings wildly about in his attempt to find his own equilibrium. And, perhaps most of all, the basic message that we’re all fighting our own battles and so we need to have empathy and grace for the people in our lives, felt as earned narratively as it is true. Thematically, an interesting comp would be Alexis Hall’s Husband Material, which I reviewed back in July.
That does not mean this is a perfect book by any means. Danny’s naïveté at the start of the book stretched my suspension of disbelief to its limits. And, even as I really liked the book’s message and resonate with its point of view, I think it paints with a brush that’s a bit too broad at times and could have used a bit more nuance in its final assessment. But overall, I really loved it.
Read this if you’re interested in:
- Own Voices
- Urban Life
- Mental Health
My Rating: Premise 10, Main Character 10, Setting 8, Plot 8, Intrigue 10, Relationships 10, Success 10, Writing 10, Enjoyment 10, Message 10: TOTAL 96
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- Christmas on the Island (Mure 3), Jenny Colgan (2018), 64: This third installment of Colgan’s Mure series follows the storylines from the previous books, so this isn’t a series one would want to jump into in the middle. There is a palliative care plot, a visit by boorish American family and sexy Russian businessmen, a Nativity play, a surprise pregnancy, and a refugee’s joys and struggles in settling into island life. I was moved by it, but I also didn’t really care, and I know I’ll completely forget I read it in a week’s time. (Cozy, Scotland, Island Life, Pregnancy, Refugee Resettlement, Cancer, Family)
- Tales from the Bottom of my Shoe, David Kingston Yeh (2020), 80: This is a meandering and lightly plotted slice of life in an eventful couple of years for a young queer couple in Toronto, in which they explore family and friendship and the boundaries of their ‘monogamish’ relationship. This book has received remarkably strong ratings and glowing reviews, but it didn’t entirely work for me. On the positive side, I absolutely loved how specific the Toronto setting was, and all of the characters were really well-developed and unique. Unfortunately, the story itself — or lack thereof — let me down, seeming more like a checklist of things young queer artsy people in Toronto would experience than a plot. Most of the story elements involve the supporting characters, and I wasn’t entirely sure if this was intentional, or what I was supposed to think and feel about that. I enjoyed it, but left it really unsure of what it was ‘about’ and what it was trying to do.(LGBTQ2S+, Own Voices, Toronto, Arts and Culture, Family, Friendship)
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- The Kings of Clonmel (Ranger’s Apprentice 8), John Flanagan (2008), 85: In this volume of the wonderful Ranger’s Apprentice series, Will, Halt, and Horace are sent to Halt’s homeland to undermine a new group — part cult, part protection racket — threatening the region’s stability. I’ve been effusive in my praise for this series throughout this year, and this was an enjoyable, if unnecessarily long addition to it. That it doesn’t quite live up to the heights of many of the previous stories for me doesn’t make it any less great. (Middle Grade, Fantasy, Adventure, Teenagers Doing Espionage)
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- Listful Living, Paula Rizzo (2019), 41: This book has a great premise: Improve your life through the power of lists. Unfortunately, it really did not work for me. It struck me as the worst stereotype of the self-help genre, over-promising (one chapter title suggests it is a “passport to stress-free living”!) and under-delivering; what good content it includes is mostly just skimming the surface of other self-help books’ insights and approaches. I guess I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in but new to the self-help genre, who would be interested in a smattering of ideas to jumpstart their own creativity or research. Otherwise, I think it’s fair to give it a pass. (Self-Help, Lists, Productivity)
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