I could review the wonderful I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver by focusing on how cathartic the coming-out story is in it. This young adult romance novel follows Ben De Backer, after their parents kick them out when they come out about being nonbinary. Deaver does a wonderful job with the entire narrative, and they make sure that the people who actually deserve redemption arcs get them. But! I just talked about that, and there was something that struck me even more in the story: the way Deaver uses red-flags and green-lights to code abuse or allyship for the reader as a kind of educational tool.
I knew from the first page that I couldn’t trust Ben’s parents to be good allies. Their parents are fixated on grades, lack boundaries, and maintain long-term communication issues with their child. When Ben’s parents notice they’re acting strangely, the response they give them is not to talk it out or to take care of them, it’s to ask about grades. Ben, themself, even says their grades will “be all As, except in English, which will probably earn me a ‘We’re not angry, just disappointed.’” (1) These parents clearly have obscene expectations for their child and are willing to make Ben feel guilty even for getting a less-than-perfect score.
Moreover, Ben’s first response to their mother asking if they’re feeling well is to say that they’re “fine…” because it’s “…Always easier to just tell her that.” (1) There are clearly issues with communication here. Also, once the two are satisfied with Ben’s promises to keep their grades up, the mother changes the subject by saying, “We should schedule you a haircut, it’s getting too long in the back.” (1) There’s no question, no bodily autonomy. It’s as though Ben is a doll or a robot to them; the parents have all the control.
As you might expect, these red flags continue through the rest of the chapter. In the moment as I was reading, I had the nagging feeling that if Ben came out to them, it would end very poorly, but I didn’t know entirely why. Deaver threw in these little details to subtly warn the readers not to trust Ben’s parents.
Deaver shows that the love interest of the story, Nathan Allan, is different from Ben’s parents. The first time he walks into the school’s main office, Nathan is shown to be talkative (maybe a bit too much) and generally just an easy-going guy. But the green lights with Nathan go deeper than that–he’s also considerate. When Nathan starts talking to Ben, “He adjusts the way he’s sitting so he can sort of face me.” (27) He’s not just an extrovert, he’s a genuinely kind person.
As well, in response to Ben’s standoffish attitude, Nathan doesn’t ever get angry or give up on them, he instead says, “If I did something to make you uncomfortable, I’m really sorry.” (84) And when he’s told that Ben has been going through some difficult times, Nathan asks if they want to talk about it and respects their choice when they say they don’t want to.
Nathan makes for a sharp contrast to Ben’s parents. It applies to his ability to communicate, to his respect of Ben’s boundaries, and even to how he treats Ben’s art. While Ben’s parents treat their art as secondary to their grades, Nathan takes interest in it. He asks to see their sketchbook and, when they eventually give it to him to look through, “He handles it with the same care I’d expect him to give a baby.” (81) All of these little things solidify in the mind of the reader that Nathan is trustworthy.
Deaver does this for all of the characters, not just for Ben’s parents and Nathan. If I were willing to give spoilers, I’d talk about how Ben’s sister and her husband are depicted–how they have mostly green lights with one or two red flags in there. It’s a thorough and nuanced system that lets the reader learn implicitly who can and cannot be trusted as an ally. For an LGBTQIA+ young adult novel, this sort of narrative is incredibly useful. It imparts the wisdom of elders within the community to inexperienced LGBTQIA+ folks. And more than that: it was a great read. I’m not usually one to binge-read, but I finished this over the course of two days. I think this is a good read particularly for trans and/or nonbinary people, but it’s also just a great story to read regardless of whether someone is LGBTQIA+ or not.
I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver
Publisher: PUSH, Scholastic Inc. (2019)
Paperback: About $11
Number of Pages: 327 pages
Content Warnings: Coming out, transphobia, panic attacks, abusive family dynamics, being kicked out, dysphoria, misgendering, alcohol, depression