ARC Review: Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian

Like a Love StoryLike a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s 1989 in New York City, and for three teens, the world is changing.

Reza is an Iranian boy who has just moved to the city with his mother to live with his stepfather and stepbrother. He’s terrified that someone will guess the truth he can barely acknowledge about himself. Reza knows he’s gay, but all he knows of gay life are the media’s images of men dying of AIDS.

Judy is an aspiring fashion designer who worships her uncle Stephen, a gay man with AIDS who devotes his time to activism as a member of ACT UP. Judy has never imagined finding romance…until she falls for Reza and they start dating.

Art is Judy’s best friend, their school’s only out and proud teen. He’ll never be who his conservative parents want him to be, so he rebels by documenting the AIDS crisis through his photographs.

As Reza and Art grow closer, Reza struggles to find a way out of his deception that won’t break Judy’s heart–and destroy the most meaningful friendship he’s ever known.

Warnings: homophobia, internalized shame, parental abuse, racism, AIDS crisis, terminally ill family member, death of family, fatmisia

Like a Love story is more like a love letter to Madonna and the queer activism during the AIDS crisis. Set in 1989, it is a story about three friends coming of age during an epidemic. Reza, new to the country, is slowly being introduced to pop culture and music by his friends Art and Judy, who have been best friends since childhood and have stuck together through all the hard times and the bullying in school. Judy’s uncle Stephen is gay and HIV+, which is a death sentence during this time, and he is an activist, along with many such queer people in ACT UP. Art looks up to him like a father, and channels his rage over the whole homophobia and the deliberate ignorance of an epidemic, into activism. He is also, for the first time, having a crush on someone, and feels it is being reciprocated. But Reza, who knows he is gay, but very afraid of it instead is dating Judy, who doesn’t know about it.

I will first talk about the love triangle. Yes, it is messy, but you also get where each of them is coming from. Reza is hiding, having been brought up in a culture which acknowledge being gay, and him having to be the ‘good son’ for his mother means he feels very tied down by that. Judy, who is constantly criticized for being fat, feels happy she found a boy she likes who doesn’t mind she is fat. Art, whose very existence as an out gay boy invites hatred, feels happy to possibly find love. Things go down in a bad way, and I wasn’t entirely convinced by Judy holding on to her anger for so long, considering who she had as a childhood best friend. Her then being okay with hooking up with a certain someone was not the best choice either, IMO, since she had declared a certain deal-breaker earlier in the book. Anyway, while yes, this is a teen love story, it has a much more expansive plot in the background.

So, Stephen – he is the one who stole the limelight. Like, throughout the book I thought he was the supporting presence in the book, but he is actually the ‘love letter’ of the book: an ode to the queer activists of the time, who fought through all the homophobia, through their perseverance and hope for a better world for their community. It was he who brings them all together in the end, along with Jimmy, who is black gay guy. Both of them represented the community as well as the first line in this war, though I wish the book had actually included (not just referenced) trans characters as they were known for their work, and had more queer women too. Stephen’s note cards intermittently show up during the book, telling us about the icons, about their fight, and about what love meant to him.

Another character who shone was Reza, obviously. He represents an entry to the queer community, and also represents so much of the fear that was pervasive. Through him, you see how queer people had to face a fight from so many sides – from their family, from their community, from the fear of disease, from internal shame. His parents’ fear for him is also more rooted in what danger it might mean for him, while Art represents a different kind of homophobia that was experienced, where a parent acknowledged you but wanted you to be basically dead. Art himself has a decision to make during his character arc, about what he wants to be happy. And the ending definitely made me cry, more than once. I think I was practically crying for most of the last quarter of the book, because it was the most heart-warming and heart-breaking story arc.

Verdict: A beautiful novel that celebrates the queer activists and allies that fought valiantly for the communtiy during the AIDS crisis, while also reminding us the importance of love, empathy and human connection.

Is it diverse? gay Iranian main character (ownvoices) and gay and fat main characters, queer and POC secondary characters

Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Balzer & Bray, via Edelweiss.

View all my reviews

Buy links

The Book Depository | Wordery

Released on June 4, 2019

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