Like a Love Story
by Abdi Nazemian
“The most important four-letter word in our history will always be LOVE. That’s what we are fighting for. That’s who we are. Love is our legacy.”
Published June 4, 2019 by Balzer + Bray
Genre: YA historical fiction
Date finished: Aug. 3, 2019
Content warnings: homophobic language and violence, racial slurs, fatphobic language, depictions of AIDs
It’s 1989 in New York City, and for three teens, the world is changing.
Reza is an Iranian boy who has just moved to the city with his mother to live with his stepfather and stepbrother. He’s terrified that someone will guess the truth he can barely acknowledge about himself. Reza knows he’s gay, but all he knows of gay life are the media’s images of men dying of AIDS.
Judy is an aspiring fashion designer who worships her uncle Stephen, a gay man with AIDS who devotes his time to activism as a member of ACT UP. Judy has never imagined finding romance…until she falls for Reza and they start dating.
Art is Judy’s best friend, their school’s only out and proud teen. He’ll never be who his conservative parents want him to be, so he rebels by documenting the AIDS crisis through his photographs.
As Reza and Art grow closer, Reza struggles to find a way out of his deception that won’t break Judy’s heart–and destroy the most meaningful friendship he’s ever known.
My thoughts (spoiler free)
Hdlakjdfkj why are the reviews for the books I love most always the hardest to write?
Okay, deep breath…
Despite the fact that this book gave me So Many Feelings and made me cry more than any other book I’ve read this year, I’m going to try to write a coherent review. Let’s do this.
This book is split between the perspectives of three teenagers living in 1989 New York City, in the midst of the AIDs crisis. Reza is an Iranian immigrant terrified to acknowledge the part of himself that he believes will kill him like it has killed so many others like him. Art is an openly gay activist who refuses to be anything but himself, even in a world that tells him that who he is is wrong. Judy is Art’s lifelong best friend who believes she’ll never find someone who will love her.
These characters crawled into my heart and decided to make a home there. I honestly could not tell you which of these three is my favorite – all three are deeply flawed and messy, and I loved them anyway. Even when they were making horrible mistakes and hurting each other, there was never a point that I didn’t understand why they acted the way they did. From Reza’s deeply internalized shame, to Judy’s insecurity, to Art’s performance of nonchalance, they always felt devastatingly human.
As much as this is a book about these three characters and their complex, beautiful relationships with each other, it is also about so many other things.
It is a love letter to Madonna. I’ve never been a fan of Madonna because that’s not the era I grew up in, but reading this book made me appreciate her in a whole new light and even listen to a bunch of her music!
It is a story about AIDs and activism. For Reza, Art, and Judy, whose lives are all personally impacted by the AIDs crisis, it feels like the world is ending, and the only way they can survive is to fight as hard as they can.
It is a tribute to the forgotten people who fought and died for rights we take for granted today. Despite the fact that this book is set less than a decade before I was born, this is a part of history that I know shamefully little about. I certainly never learned about it in school. And that simple fact is heartbreaking. I remember learning about AIDs in school, but until a few years ago I didn’t even know that it was connected to the gay community or that the government essentially ignored the problem because it didn’t care about gay people. There’s a part in this book where Judy’s uncle Stephen says that their stories won’t be remembered by history and…that broke me. Because it’s true, and it’s devastating.
It’s about the community and culture that queer people have created: its resilience, diversity, anger, power, and most of all, its love.
It’s about shame and identity. Despite the fact that Art and Judy are best friends, they are forced to realize that Judy, being straight, can never fully understand Art’s experience being gay, while Art, as a man raised in an upper-class family, can never fully understand Judy’s experience as a lower-middle class woman. All the layers of shame that are piled onto these identities are explored so thoughtfully. And ultimately, accepting your identity is the only way to truly live.
It’s about family – both the family you’re born with and the family you choose.
It’s about hope, and it’s also a reminder that the fight isn’t done yet. We might have come a long way in terms of acceptance since 1989, but there’s still a long way to go, and the only way to continue fighting is to remember the past and the people who fought for what we have now.
This book is beautiful, moving, devastating, and delightful all at once. It is not a book I will ever forget.
“Tell your story, because if you don’t, it could be wiped out. No one tells our stories for us.”