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REVIEW: Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales

4/5 stars — an emotional, fresh take on a classic love story

Only Mostly Devastated is billed as ‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda meets Clueless in this boy-meets-boy spin on Grease.’ Whew! That’s three big-name comps, which is a lot for any book to live up to. In my opinion, this book lives up most fully to the Grease comparison, although it hits many of the same emotional notes as Simon vs. and will likely appeal to anyone who enjoyed that story. Main character Ollie has a smart, sometimes funny internal narrative. He and his classmates sounded like real teenagers to me—but take that with a grain of salt, because I’m nearly thirty. Love interest Will is a popular jock who’s not out at school or to his family, and Ollie’s forced to reconcile the fun, romantic Will he spent time with during the summer with the closed-off one he runs into at his new school. Scenes from a second timeline (during the summer, when Ollie and Will were together) are peppered into the primary one, providing insight into why Ollie’s putting himself through Will pretending to be straight and injecting a bit more romance into the more serious parts of the book. I like how the story balanced sweet and serious parts so it never seemed overly saccharine or depressing. The side plot revolving around Ollie’s aunt’s cancer fits snugly into the main story. It’s tough to read at times, but adds depth to the high school drama and shows some nuances of Ollie’s character that otherwise wouldn’t be evident. I appreciated the way the book dealt with processing illness, dying, and grief. I found Only Mostly Devastating an enjoyable, touching read. It’s not a universally relatable high school (queer) dating experience, but the specificity is what makes it so valuable—and such a good story. I definitely recommend this book to fans of YA contemporary. Come for the Grease cuteness, stay for Sophie Gonzales’ excellent handling of complex emotions! A note: I alternated between reading the paperback of this novel and listening to the audiobook. Mark Sanderlin’s narration is excellent—I highly recommend the audio edition if it’s available to you. Content warnings: homophobia (challenged), terminally ill family member (cancer), death of a family member ** I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway, which has not influenced my review. **

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