With everyone assuming that Zee is a lesbian, and that Art is gay, no one thought that they would become friends. Zee, pursuing a relationship with her best friend, can tell immediately that Art was starstruck with her, despite her thinking him gay.
Why this book?: I liked the way it seemed to challenge stereotypes in the summary, plus it hinted at non-binary rep for both of them.
I would like to thank BT Gottfred and the people at BYR for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Disclaimer: All quoted lines from my ARC have been cross-referenced with a finished copy but are written down as they were from the ARC. All quotes are written by B.T. Gottfred in his novel The Handsome Girl & Her Beautiful Boy. The quotes are being used as evidence for the points I mention in my review, and nothing else.
I originally found this book on NetGalley, but it was up for Wish for It. I still wanted to read it, so I emailed the publisher and never got a response. In a really desperate attempt, I put a note on my review in Goodreads, asking if it was possible for a trans reviewer to get an ARC. Lo and behold, I later got a message via Goodreads from author BT Gottfred, in which he asked me to fill out his contact form on his website, and he’d forward my info to his publisher.
Throughout our emailing, he was very nice and friendly, and by the end of our conversation, I can very well say that Gottfred wrote this book with good intentions, but I couldn’t yet say if he wrote accurately. About a month later, I got a physical ARC copy in the mail with a note from the publisher noting that the author had requested I was sent one. (Meaning that Gottfred had come through, that he wanted to know an #OwnVoices opinion.)
Unfortunately, that’s where the majority of the “Pros” end. I can say, wholeheartedly, that I would not recommend The Handsome Girl & Her Beautiful Boy to teen readers, and even less so to queer readers.
It’s made very obvious from the outside and summary of this book that Gottfred was attempting to challenge stereotypes by reiterating that being a feminine boy =/= being gay, and being a masculine girl =/= being a lesbian. To do this, however, Gottfred utilized other, more harmful stereotypes, specifically ones that made me question adult’s sanity. Do they really think we act like this?
The book literally opens with Zee making a list about her and what she’s like . . . and the entire first page gave me a headache. From Zee saying things like “Don’t ask” or “Isn’t the word ‘like’ lame? Yeah, it is.” as well as her just being a stereotypical moody teenager. I’ll admit that I know a few people who act like that. But reading the stereotype in a book that proclaims to challenge stereotypes was just too much.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the second page, we’re introduced to Art. Who I can’t even begin to comprehend. Here’s his introduction:
“I don’t even know why I thought that. Perhaps the universe is communicating in mysterious ways.
“Or I’m bored.
“I should probably do my physics homework, but instead I’m going to read your mind (just trust me on this). I can sense you’re probably wondering, ‘Art, how can someone so witty and interesting like you be so lonely?’
“The answer is, I plan to change this very soon.
How do I know this?
Because I know magic!
I’m kidding. I don’t know magic.
I am magic. You’ll see. Ha.” (pg 2)
Now, I don’t have anything against quirky characters. Really, I don’t. But when you’re reading nearly 400 pages of exactly what you read above, it gets annoying as all hell. And it’s not just that. It’s not just Art being quirky and trying to bring comedic relief. He’s not funny he’s annoying, because he never calms down. That chapter I quoted above? Art is doing that throughout the entire book. Sometimes like it is above. SOMETIMES IN ALL CAPS (I’ll get to that).
So, right off the bat I knew that these characters would be hard to love for me. Very hard to love. But then we got further into the book, and I knew this was going to get harder. Cam, Zee’s best friend as well as her crush, is the stereotypical fuck boy, expecting to get everything because he wanted it. And Zee likes him. And Art complains about Zee liking him through at least half of the book because Art likes Zee and isn’t that just so unfair? (And isn’t “like” such a lame word? So lame.)
Now, Gottfred also used another stereotype that really pissed me off. And I really hope he didn’t realize this when he was writing it, but there is a canon gay character that is introduced early on as Art’s best friend. Okay, yay! Canon gay character . . . who harasses Art because he believes Art is also gay but is in denial, but because Art isn’t also in love with him, acts abusive and manipulative in order to get Art to admit that he is gay.
“But Bryan isn’t going to understand [that Art loves Zee] for a million reason but mostly because he’s in love with me. We’ve had the conversation so many times. He tells me he loves me. I tell him I love him too. He tells me he loves me like that. I tell him I like girls. He tells me I’m not being honest with myself. I tell him he’s not being honest with himself that I simply don’t like him like that back. He cries, runs off, doesn’t talk to me for two days, and then texts me that he can’t even remember why we’re fighting. I pretend I don’t either and we go back to being best friends.” (pg 26)
“I tell him he’s not overweight, he’s strong, but then he asks why I’m not attracted to him . . .” (pg 32)
Those are just two of the instances where Bryan (canon gay character) does this behavior, but he repeatedly comes back into the narrative to harass Art about his sexuality. There’s even a scene in which Art and Bryan go to CrossFit with Zee, and he tells Zee that they’re doing a competition . . . and the winner gets Art?
And the thing is, Bryan isn’t the only one who does this. Art does the exact same thing to Zee, by following her around and telling her that she’s the love of his life and that they’ll be together forever, etc, etc, and it never ends. Overall, Bryan is manipulative to Art, and Art is manipulative to Zee…and Art is also just a catfishing asshole to Bryan, by saying things like “I’m finding you attractive for the first time ever” and then saying he’s joking or some shit.
Going away from stereotyping, there were just general quotes that I had to note down because they were one thing or another. Overall, this book was made of annoying Art quotes, moody Zee quotes, offensive/controlling quotes, or other quotes that were trying to be inspirational. Here’s a few that really got on my nerves, for various obvious reasons.
“. . . she’s androgynous, but not in an unsexy way.” (pg 15)
“I mean, aren’t we all a little gay?” (pg 19)
(A label of one of the many graphs Art makes) “Homophobic People with Good Gaydar Because They’re Secretly Gay and want to Distract Others Away From Seeing Their Secret Truth” (pg 113)
“. . . and he’ll break up with me and I’ll get fat.’ All of Abigail’s tragic nightmares end with her getting fat.” (pg 119)
“Bryan is an only child, so he gets whatever he wants. New car. New clothes… New video games and computers and a credit card he can use to buy whatever food he wants whenever he wants. He’s so lucky. His life would be perfect if I was his boyfriend and his parents stopped pretending he wasn’t gay. So maybe it all equals out.” (pg ???)
“See how I went gender neutral? I’m awesome.” (pg 129)
“My dad’s Arab. Or Middle Eastern. Or something this sheltered and shallow suburban white girl never thought he’d be. But my cracking identity points out this means I’m not even really white anymore.” (pg 133)
” . . . I told her . . . that if she didn’t get an abortion, that she would never see me again’ . . . The man who put his dick in my mom to create me just told me he wanted to murder me in her womb and abandoned us when she refused . . .” (pg 134)
“Psycho me calls my dead mother’s cell phone.” (pg 139)
“I know, Zee, and you won’t have to wear something that blunt. That’s for girls like Abigail swho have to overdo it on the ‘Get Sex Right Here!’ neon lights.” (pg 174)
“On the drive to Northbrook, I tell Art how I think my dad is probably a terrorist and that I’m definitely a racist a-hole for thinking he’s a terrorist.” (pg 181)
“Tell me you’ll love or it I’ll die.” (literally every 10 pages)
“People have kids so they can delude themselves into believing they have cheated death and are now immortal. SO do you know what happens when two people have one child and that one child is gay? … The delusion of immortality dies. IT IS MURDERED BY GAY CHILDREN! And when the delusion of immortality dies, a part of them feels like they’re already dead. That’s why my parents and other parents are terrified their kids are gay. All the church, religious, moral stuff is just a bunch of bologna.” (pg ???)
“We were gender and sexually fluid before it was cool because we didn’t do it to be cool – we did it to be who we truly are” (pg ???)
These quotes have a variety of reasons for annoying me, but generally they were insensitive, fatphobic, racist, ableist, manipulative, abusive, or just really, really wrong. Zee called her Iranian father a terrorist. There was also the regular usage of ableist terms, like “psycho”, “crazy”, “lame”, etc. One of the characters, Abigail, was also a fairly ableist stereotype, specifically the “crazy ex-girlfriend”.
Basically, these characters just spout stereotypical, problematic rhetoric with the belief that its good because it sounds that way.
Something I also struggled with a lot is Gottfred’s writing. This is the first book by him that I’ve read, so I don’t know if his other books are like this, but I felt like he could have done better. Gottfred’s writing was very mature, but seemed to be simplified based on the characters and the story. There’s parts where the book is written in ALL CAPS LIKE THIS to signify yelling…but it was just annoying. Any other author would just use italics or tags or verbal cues that signify yelling. Instead, though, WE GET ALL CAPS LIKE THIS FOR SENTENCES, OR WITH CERTAIN CHARACTERS, PARAGRAPHS AT A TIME. Other parts were literally “AAAAAHHHHH” or “SCREAAAAAAAAAAAM” and I just couldn’t get behind what felt like two ten year old’s text conversation.
And then there was Gottfred’s refusal to write the words bisexual or non-binary. The reason I picked this book up is because the summary mentioned that gender was questioned. But, really, gender wasn’t questioned. Instead, Gottfred opened discussions on femininity and masculinity. He spoke in lots of universals, such as every relationship was one person seeking to balance their masculine and feminine sides with a partner. And that every person had masculine and feminine sides and that it doesn’t matter which side is dominant. I understand all of this. I do. However, being masculine or feminine does not determine gender, nor do they determine your sexuality or who you want to be close to.
Gottfred spoke about being sexually fluid, but never mentioned bisexuality or pansexuality (however, when ‘sexually fluid’ was brought up, characters started calling the character in question a slut. So. There’s another stereotype for anyone who’s counting.) Gottfred also used another word for non-binary that really irked me. What the absolute fuck does “supergendered” mean? It’s like Gottfred wanted to discuss how these subjects affected one another, but then didn’t want to say “bi/pansexual” or “non-binary” so instead of using those words, he came up with random substitutes that made no fucking sense.
One thing I also struggled with is that Gottfred was speaking about all of these rules and being sexually fluid and that being okay but he was also getting fairly technical and I really didn’t see why he should have a voice in this and others, who are more qualified, can’t have a voice. Obviously I’m not saying that Gottfred has to come out to have any sort of say in this, but why does a (supposedly) allocishet white guy get to say what’s okay sexually and not someone who is queer.
Final Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Overall, I felt really misled by this book. The summary mentioned that it would be questioning gender and sexuality, when in reality the only questioning of gender I found was the masculine/feminine talk (AKA the “Zert” scale). The only questioning of sexuality was just calling bi/pansexual “sexually fluid” and that people who are “sexually fluid”/bi/pansexual are sluts. Which I was not going to get behind.
Some other things that I didn’t want to tackle in this review was the outright denial to say bisexual or even non-binary, because if Gottfred had acknowledged these things then many problems would have been solved quickly. Then there were also the extremely cringe-worthy sex scenes, of which we got detailed descriptions from both sides.
Would I Recommend?
If, after this 2,000 word review, you still want to read it, that’s your business. I won’t say that Gottfred was writing this book with malicious intent. I will say that the entire book was misguided and as it was, extremely harmful and triggering. Read at your own risk, but I seriously wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone.
If you’re interested in reading a more comprehensive review, please check out my friend Rachel’s review over on Goodreads. She caught things that I didn’t bother to read thoroughly (I skipped scenes, and I also didn’t read the last ~100 pages. So everything above is from the 300 pages I did read.)
Published: May 8th, 2018
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co (BYR)
Page Count: 420
Synopsis: via Goodreads
Everyone assumes that Zee is a lesbian. Her classmates, her gym buddies, even her so-called best friend. So many people think that Zee likes girls, even Zee is starting to wonder. Could they be onto something?
Everyone assumes that Art is gay. They take one look at his nice clothes and his pretty face and think: well, obviously.
But there’s more to Zee and Art than anyone realizes. When Art first meets Zee, he knows he’s found someone special–someone magical. Zee may not be able to see that magic in herself, but Art is bound and determined to show it to her.
What develops is a powerful connection between two people who are beautiful in all the ways they’ve been told are strange. As they explore their own complexities in gender, sexuality, and identity, they fall for the complexities they find in each other. With his trademark frankness, B.T. Gottfred delves inside both characters’ heads in this story about love and living authentically.