Title: To Be Honest
Series: #lovehim: Book Three
Author: S. M. James
Publisher: Amazon/Kindle Unlimited
Length: 412 Pages
Category: Contemporary, Teen Fiction
At a Glance: While there are some problems with the story, the message it tries to convey is an important one, and the story, overall, is entertaining.
Reviewed By: Sammy
Blurb: Angus Reid is pretty sure he’s being catfished.
After spending the last half of junior year talking online to the guy of his dreams, Angus wants to meet. In person. So when Scotty brushes it off with excuses of not being ready, red flags go up.
Determined to either catch Scotty out, or take a shot at real love, Angus embarks on a summer road trip with his adorkable roommate, Tyler. But as summer stretches on, and mixed messages fly between them, Angus finds his heart torn.
His potential catfisher?
Or his straight best friend?
And while their road trip takes them across the country, Angus is headed for one destination.
Either a happily ever after … or a broken heart.
Review: To Be Honest is the third novel in S.M. James #lovehim series and can definitely be read as a standalone. Focusing on a small group of friends at a private high school, the story really centers on Angus and his roommate, Tyler. Angus is a rare bird: a star football player and fairly popular guy, as well as gay and out to many on campus. However, being out doesn’t necessarily make him bold. Not only does his socioeconomic standing set him apart—he is at the school on a scholarship—but he tries not to flaunt his being gay in front of his teammates simply because he feels it could be pushing them a bit too far. Or so he convinces himself. In actuality, Angus has a hard time feeling worthy of much of anything, from the wealth his friends have and tend to want to share with him, to the idea that he is really okay with being out and proud.
To make matters worse, Angus has a crush on his straight roommate, Tyler. Tyler is perhaps the best friend Angus has, next to his gal pal Anah, and his tendency to make Angus feel special and really, truly seen only makes the feelings Angus has for Tyler—and is trying to avoid—worse. If life weren’t complicated enough, Angus has also begun an online relationship with Scotty, a guy he has never seen, never talked to other than online, and who seems very reluctant to reveal much about himself. Angus is worried Scotty is a catfisher, and goes back and forth between wanting to get closer to the guy and ending the whole thing. When Anah suggests a summer road trip, Angus is all over the idea since the final destination could be where Scotty supposedly lives, giving him the chance to finally track down the guy and meet him in person.
To Be honest explores both teenage love and what it means to really be comfortable in your own skin and with your sexuality. Without giving any more of the story away, suffice it to say that this novel turns out to be a real lesson in just how homophobia and bullying can push someone back into the closet out of fear of being hurt both emotionally and physically. Angus experiences none of that, but his situation is not so very different. He almost fears rocking the boat and really pushing his sexuality in front of his teammates. He struggles with feelings of inferiority and fears that making any changes in his life, from telling Tyler he is attracted to him to actually pursuing a relationship with someone, will end up in his losing the friends he so cherishes and depends on.
This story is both a coming of age and coming out tale for more than one character. The dual plot between Angus lusting after Tyler and still wanting to have a real relationship with Scotty makes this story move rather quickly. I think that the idea of Angus liking more than one boy is very realistic for his age (seventeen), but often I felt the way in which he and Tyler spoke to one another was a bit too sophisticated for high school juniors. I was also rather shocked that Angus was out on the campus and didn’t get any flack from other teammates about it. I’m not sure that is the norm for typical high school athletes these days, yet the author made it all work by focusing on Angus’ own worries about actually dating.
I liked these characters, although Anah was a bit strident and stereotypical when it came to the gay guy’s best friend. I felt the story could have been pared down when it came to Angus constantly struggling with his life in general. He was a bit consumed by it all, and it made for multiple passages covering the same angsty emotional ground, which got somewhat predictable after a while. The plot twist was pretty easy to figure out as well, and since I caught on fairly early in the novel, it felt like the actual reveal took way too long. However, the story moved at a good pace and kept the book from feeling long or boring.
To Be Honest is a good example of a novel that tries to expose just how hard it is for teens to confront their fears about being comfortable with who they are and having the courage to stand up and admit it to others. It briefly explores the idea that bullying by peers and well-meaning parents who want to protect their child can actually push a teen back into the closet where they hide in fear of exposure or failure. While there are some problems with the story, the message it tries to convey is an important one, and the story, overall, is entertaining.
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