Dana reviews He Called Me Beautiful by Annabeth Chatwin. (Self-published September 18, 2020. 103 pages) A copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.
Why I read this: I am a fan of YA stories when love is new and exciting. The blurb for this one interested me and I wanted to check it out.
Tyler: It’s 1998. The brutal murder of a gay man just made national news. I’m a skinny skater boy and low in the high school food chain already— no way am I coming out. But at a masked Halloween party, the cutest guy in school (and the only one who’s out) doesn’t recognize me. We dance together and he kisses me before I bolt. Now he’s desperate to discover who I am. If he does, he and his preppy friends hate me so much he’ll freak.
I want to tell him the truth, but I can’t.
Sutton: It’s 1998. Will & Grace is on TV, Ellen’s come out, and I’m the token gay prep everyone loves as long as I wear the right clothes and hate the right people. A mystery boy kisses me at my Halloween party, and I need to find him. My friends worry he might be a loser. I don’t care if he is. When I tell them that, they flip out… and suddenly the cool gay kid isn’t so cool anymore.
I have to find this guy, if only so I’m not alone.
Finding time to read has been hard for me lately. The length of this story was perfect for me to pick up and read right now, but as I finished the book it is easy to see it is far from over. There are two more books to the series, and I think they will need to be read to feel secure about these characters happy endings.
The author takes us back to 1998 for this story. I was in my early 20’s and not as young as these characters but I could feel the nostalgia of their lives strongly. That era holds a lot of memories for me with the music and clothing. It had felt like a really promising time for me. It also doesn’t seem like that long ago, but when I look back I can see how times have changed. I can’t say that I knew even one out kid who graduated with me. Sutton is the only out kid at his high school, but his money and popularity have shielded him from any negative feedback. Probably also the fact that he was single and no one had to acknowledge the reality. Tyler was a skater kid who dressed more emo than preppy and listened to Bowie, The Sex Pistols, and Radiohead. Not all bands of the time, but definitely not what Sutton’s crowd was listening to. Though most kids thought Tyler was straight, it didn’t stop them from calling him homophobic slurs, just because he was different. In many ways Tyler and Sutton were as different as night and day, but only when they were free to be themselves, (Tyler out, and Sutton less preppy) they found so much more in common.
In this story, Matthew Shepard had just been killed for being gay and the event has had a big impact on both Sutton and Tyler, and I know that as a straight young woman at that time it didn’t impact me as much. It’s one of those instances of privilege that you don’t think about until you see how it affects someone else. The emotion that it made me feel reading it now, speaks to the author’s ability to make the characters really relatable.
There is a little bit of a Cinderella theme in this story that I really liked. The beginning of the book was sweet. When the school turns against them, it gets a little crazy. For now they are being told it will get better, and they are being strong, but of course, now I want to see an afterward that has them living their lives without fear. It is hard for the story to end without that HEA yet, but it definitely makes me want to read the next books to see how things go for them.
8/10 Pots of Gold (80% Recommended) – Compares to 4/5 Stars
Annabeth has been writing since she could hold a pencil. An English major with an MFA in fiction, she turned to young adult literature after a long time in the freelancing (nonfiction) world, where she wrote primarily about parenting, vaccines, and being a bisexual/demisexual woman in a monogamous heterosexual relationship.
Annabeth has three sons, three dogs, and one very patient husband.
If you are in need of help, please contact the Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386
Annabeth is always available for free mom hugs at firstname.lastname@example.org.