Release date: June 7, 2016
If you asked anyone in his small Vermont town, they’d tell you the facts: James Liddell, star athlete, decent student, and sort-of boyfriend to cute, peppy Theresa is a happy, funny, carefree guy.
But whenever James sits down at his desk to write, he tells a different story. As he fills his drawers with letters to the people in his world—letters he never intends to send—he spills the truth: he’s trying hard but just isn’t into Theresa. It’s his friend, a boy, who lingers in his thoughts.
James’s secret letters are his safe space—until someone leaks them, and words he never meant to share are being broadcast all over school. Will he come clean to his parents, his teammates, and himself or is he destined to live a life of fiction?
True Letters from a Fictional Life is a coming out story – about a boy who is so enmeshed in the misogyny of society that he fears for coming out. James has known for a long time that he likes guys, that he finds guys cute in the way he can’t find girls cute and this has been eating away at him. He keeps up the facade of being straight, somewhat dating his best friend Theresa (who thinks they will be a serious thing) and crushing on his other best friend. He is confused, and his way of dealing with it is writing letters to the people in his life, not necessarily about him being gay but about what he feels about them, what he feels about living a lie.
James’s story arc is built around the fact that coming out is a brave thing to do, more so when you have witnessed homophobia around you. He has seen his friends make homophobic jokes, sees one of his buddies pick on the flamboyantly gay boy in the class, and has sometimes even joined them. He wishes he wasn’t gay, because it is difficult and he doesn’t want to go through it. But his friends and his boyfriend are his support system; they make him realize that sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe in, not what you are told. I think one of the most powerful lines in the book was when James said he did not create the lie – the straightness was a lie bestowed on him right from childhood. It makes a great point about how heterosexuality is so normalized in society that one assumes that everyone is straight until told otherwise.
While the story and the message of the book was good, I struggled with how it was written. The description and storytelling style was bland, and especially boring to get through in the first half. There is also the fact that a lot of it is just James describing himself and his surroundings, but I did not feel it was adding any details to the story. The characters are fleshed out beautifully, and the conflicts and resolution of the story were realistic. The ending, particularly the last chapter, was so sweet and heart-warming. I loved how Luke and almost everyone else always assumed it was the best friend. Theresa – well, I have mixed feelings for her, for reasons that would be spoiler-y here. Overall, I liked the book, but also felt it could have been written better.
Received a free galley from Harper Teen, via Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.