Title: This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story
Author: Kheryn Callender
Length: 304 Pages
Category: YA, Contemporary
At a Glance: Though nowhere near on par with the two books it’s compared to, This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story nevertheless won me over on its own merits, neither over promising nor under delivering.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: A fresh, charming rom-com perfect for fans of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and Boy Meets Boy about Nathan Bird, who has sworn off happy endings but is sorely tested when his former best friend, Ollie, moves back to town.
Nathan Bird doesn’t believe in happy endings. Although he’s the ultimate film buff and an aspiring screenwriter, Nate’s seen the demise of too many relationships to believe that happy endings exist in real life.
Playing it safe to avoid a broken heart has been his MO ever since his father died and left his mom to unravel—but this strategy is not without fault. His best-friend-turned-girlfriend-turned-best-friend-again, Florence, is set on making sure Nate finds someone else. And in a twist that is rom-com-worthy, someone does come along: Oliver James Hernández, his childhood best friend.
After a painful mix-up when they were little, Nate finally has the chance to tell Ollie the truth about his feelings. But can Nate find the courage to pursue his own happily ever after?
Review: It’s impossible not to go into a book that’s been compared to other titles in a genre with a healthy amount of skepticism. Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda and one of my all-time, hands down, always and forever faves, Boy Meets Boy, are two novels that set a higher standard in the LGBTQ YA Romance genre, so I may have gone into This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story with a hyper-critical eye as well as inflated expectations. I disagree that this book is a romantic comedy, at all let alone on par with the other two books, but I did come out of it, in the end, charmed by the story and its characters, and that’s always a worthwhile exchange for my time.
Sixteen-year-old Nathan Bird is a cynic at heart. He has some issues with the concept of happily ever after—namely that he doesn’t believe in it in spite of everything the movies he adores have to say about the subject. Nate has firsthand, real life experience that love always ends badly, and when it does, it always hurts epically.
Nate’s mom still mourns the loss of his dad seven years ago, hasn’t moved beyond her loss, and has a difficult time not projecting her worry and grief into a stifling yet understandable protective streak. More recently, Nate’s ex-girlfriend, Florence, cheated on him and broke his heart, leaving him painfully confused but still determined to be her friend. As a matter of fact, the subject of cheating comes up more than once in the story, so be aware, if that’s a hard pass for you, but I have to say I found it fairly innocent in context, in the way the heart and emotions are a bit more fickle when we’re young and living to learn from our mistakes.
Years before this most recent heartbreak, however, when Nate was just eleven years old, he made the mistake of kissing his best friend Oliver James Hernández, mere moments before Ollie was set to move to Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his parents. And Ollie was never heard from again. So, Nate’s pessimism, where love is concerned, is well-fed in the short span of his existence. He’s been conditioned to expect the worst and believe that giving his heart away will do nothing but leave it in tatters. It stands to reason that his best and only option, then, is to keep his emotions locked down tight, to keep his heart in check rather than risk the journey that’s bound to leave him feeling like hell.
Nate’s struggle to accommodate his lingering feelings for Florence is complicated when, five years later, Oliver James unexpectedly returns to Seattle, and Nate realizes, much to his dismay and confusion, that his rekindled friendship with Ollie is starting to look and feel an awful lot like he still loves the boy to whom he’d given his first kiss. Nate’s story exams the relationship between friends and significant others and how, in a thoroughly plausible and confusing-to-Nate way, it’s possible to feel romantic love and longing for two people, simultaneously. In doing so, the fear of losing both Florence and Oliver James causes Nate’s anxieties to become self-fulfilled prophecies as he lashes out, believing self-preservation is his only means of keeping his heart intact. Because falling in love is easy, sometimes it isn’t at all pretty and perfect, and it’s staying in love that’s the hard part. Kheryn Callender doesn’t promise things that her characters can’t deliver.
It’s admittedly been a helluva long time since I was a teenager, but who doesn’t remember their first love, their first kiss, their first time, their first breakup—all the emotional complications, entanglements, and the moments fraught with the belief that nothing would ever be okay again, when everything felt like the end of the world? I thought Callender did a lot of things right in this book, including portraying those moments authentically. The characters read like teenagers with genuine teenage angsts and embarrassments. The avoidance of over-romanticizing and unrealistically portraying Nate and Ollie’s first sexual experiences was appreciated, and Callender offers a perfect in-the-moment ending that doesn’t over-promise things the characters are too young to convey. The diversity in representation is authentic to life in a real-world setting, and Oliver James being hearing impaired but not tokenized is yet another facet that made this story special. The way in which communication was so integral to participation in the story for readers sets the book apart.
Nate scripts his life into story and his story into life. His love of films, filmmaking and his goal to become a screenwriter himself, plays an important role in the telling of this short but significant chapter in what will be the whole of his life’s journey, a journey to adulthood through surviving the complicated and sometimes overwrought emotions of being a teenager.
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