With True Letters From a Fictional Life, we have a story that authentically captures the ambivalence of both the teen years and of a boy coming to realize that he’s gay. Those expecting a sugar sweet confection of LGBT romance and happily ever after endings will probably be frustrated by the lack of straightfoward storytelling. But those who appreciate an extremely well written, realistic, and grounded story will greatly appreciate the depths and nuances to be found in this title.
Story: James has a good family and good friends. He even has a great girlfriend. The problem is, he is beginning to recognize that he isn’t attracted to her and instead finds one of his guys friends much more interesting. But as he watches his friends bully a schoolmate they consider a ‘faggot’, he begins to question his own place in their small Vermont town. Then he meets a very cute, and very ‘outed’ boy from a neighboring town and secret letters he’s written to himself are suddenly stolen and mailed…..
James is a very complicated character. Indeed, every person in the book feels very real in their own unique ways. No one is good, no one is awful, and the book never hits a sour note. James bounces off events and his buddies, taking his time to come to understand his own needs and desires. This is, of course, framed within the constraints of his friends and belonging. As with real life, there is no ‘sudden event’ causing the transition, no meaningful catharsis. James has to figure it out and causes pain and unhappiness for himself and others along the way.
This isn’t a story that gives a great ‘first love’ scenario. But it doesn’t take the relationships lightly, either, giving James a grounded character as a love interest. There is also a bit of mystery – just who stole the letters he wrote and then mailed them to specific recipients? But again, that denouement isn’t unexpected nor surprising – it’s just one more step in his journey to realization by the end.
I really have to give plaudits to author Logan – James’ parents, brothers’, and friends’ reactions to his dating to a boy were so well realized. They were all varied, frustrating, and exactly what we could expect from that situation in real life. It’s rare that I come across a book so firmly grounded, so beautifully crafted, and so authentic to its characters.
Because James is so ambivalent – and the story is told from his viewpoint – some readers may find themselves disaffected by the story. Certainly, I found the letters to friends that he would never send to be a bit too much of an affectation at the beginning. But as the story progressed, author Logan’s delicately subtle storytelling coalesced into a story full of pathos that had me completely hooked. James isn’t a character we like so much as one we feel greatly for as he finds his way in a complicated world.
There is some masterful storytelling in this story – a real gem in the YA genre. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.