“Don’t ignore the problems,” he says. “Learn from them. But also, don’t knock what you get right. Every success deserves a celebration.”– Mason Deaver
I’ll admit that I did not know about International Nonbinary People’s Day until today. So the fact that I finished a book about a nonbinary teenager today is a lovely coincidence and provides a fantastic educational opportunity. More people than you realize fit under the umbrella term of nonbinary. I won’t hijack my book review here by explaining just how many ways there are to not fit into a gender binary, but there are many. Also, it is important to know that gender identity, sexual orientation, and biological sex are all separate portions of a person’s identity. Being nonbinary does not make a person straight or gay or bisexual. People of any sexual orientation or biological sex assigned at birth can be nonbinary. It’s definitely worth researching more, because I can guarantee you that someone you love fits into the nonbinary portion of the gender spectrum.
Alright, so onto the book! I Wish You All the Best is about an 18 year old high school senior. The opening scene gives us some background on Ben and their parents. Ben agonizes over telling their parents that they are nonbinary, that they don’t feel comfortable in their body when referred to as male or when dressed in masculine haircuts and clothes. They believe their parents will be supportive and they want nothing more than to share their full self with their parents.
But things don’t go as planned. Ben’s parents kick them out of the house and Ben has no one to turn to except an estranged sister that abandoned them and their entire family ten years ago. But Ben calls Hannah, and much to their relief, Hannah and her husband Thomas enthusiastically welcome Ben into their home. Ben attends a new school, gets a therapist, and does their best to fit in while no longer being comfortable coming out as their true self.
I found it easy to be inside Ben’s head. Before I knew it I was half way finished with the book. Not a lot happens in terms of action in this story, but Ben is a compelling enough character, as are Hannah, Thomas, and Nathan, that I kept reading. It’s quite easy to predict the direction this book will take, even regarding Ben and Hannah’s parents. That did slow down the last third of the book considerably. A weak plot revolves around an art show, another around prom and the nearness of graduation, and another revolves around Ben’s resentment of his sister for escaping their parents, but everything takes a backseat to Ben’s feelings about being nonbinary.
This isn’t a “bad” aspect of the book, to be clear. I simply wished for a bit more. Most books in the queer genre have been able to move past queerness being the sole focal point of the book. However, since their are far fewer books about nonbinary characters as opposed to cisgender gay characters, I can understand how this subsection of the genre still needs books like this – where the main character is white, not terribly interested in sexual attraction or expression, and doesn’t toe the line too much about crossing traditional gender roles, despite being nonbinary. Ben is designed to be palatable to as many readers as possible, in hopes that their identity doesn’t scare anyone away from supporting nonbinary people. Because Ben’s gender expression is essentially nonexistent and their discomfort is only hinted at in a few scenes, I find them to be a bit milquetoast and disappointing in what is ultimately a book solely about being nonbinary. This book is definitely still worth the read despite its entry level introduction to what it is to be genderqueer. I hope this subsection of queer literature can continue to evolve as other queer subgenres have.
“I’ve been mentally preparing myself to come out all over again, but I’ve been doing that for a while now. That was one of the things I realized early. If you’re queer, your life has the potential to become one long coming-out moment. If I ever want to be called the right pronouns, I’ll have to correct people and put myself out there first and who knows what could happen.”– Mason Deaver
- Strong sibling relationship.
- Supportive teachers and promising fledgling friendships.
- Easy to understand main character whose anxiety is described in ways that are very clear and relatable.
- A great therapist. I’m always pro-therapy.
- This is an “issue book”. The plot is thin in order to direct more attention to the issue at hand. The entire focus of this book is about being nonbinary. Everything else is a very far second in importance.
- No one book can present the entire nonbinary experience. This is certainly an introductory text to those who aren’t sure what nonbinary means. It is written to be palatable to those who might find a more obviously queer character to be more than they are ready for.
“Whatever happens”—his grip tightens a little—“I wish you all the best, Benjamin De Backer.” He says it with a smile. “You deserve it.”– Mason Deaver
- parents of a gender nonconforming child
- those who are gender nonconforming who haven’t ever seen themselves represented in literature
- those wishing to find an entry point into a larger conversation about gender identity and expression
- those who want a sweet, clean love story without too much drama
Books to Read if You Loved I Wish You All the Best:
- None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio (some sexual content)
- Felix Ever After by Kasen Callender (definitely on my reading list for this year)
- Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
- On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden (graphic novel)
Let’s Discuss! (Pick a question and drop a comment with your reply!)
- Are books about queer characters written primarily for cisgender/heterosexual audiences still as valid as those written for queer audiences?
- What kind of queer books would you like to see more of?
- What is something you’ve learned about the gender spectrum that you didn’t know a year ago?