Title: Like a Love Story
Author: Abdi Nazemian
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Review copy: Netgalley
Availability: On shelves now
Summary: 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.
This is a bighearted, sprawling epic about friendship and love and the revolutionary act of living life to the fullest in the face of impossible odds.
My thoughts: Love, love, and more love can be found all through this book. Sibling love, friendship, romance, and of course all the wonder and pain love can bring. Oh, and so much love for Madonna.
In the midst of all this love, there is also a massive amount of fear. Reza is afraid to be honest about himself because he’s unsure of how his family and peers will react and AIDS is a nightmare that haunts him daily. Just seeing anyone with AIDS paralyzes him. Judy is also dealing with fear about her uncle’s health, but also about this new relationship with Reza. She falls for him hard, but he sends some very mixed signals.
In addition to fear, anger is alive and well. There’s so much to be angry about. The injustice is enough to make someone want to burn everything down. The homophobia and the indifference and callousness of so many people – even people who would claim to be followers of Christ is infuriating. This anger fuels people like Judy’s uncle. Stephen is part of the organization ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). Art is angry not only with the broader homophobia and hate directed at the gay community, but also at the refusal of his family to accept and love him as he is. Since Stephen won’t allow him to participate in the more risky parts of the activism, Art’s job is to photograph and document what is happening when they protest. Art’s photography is how he makes sense of the world and how he communicates his feelings and ideas.
The book bounces between Reza, Art, and Judy’s perspectives. This was a way for readers to get to know each character from the inside as well as through each other’s eyes. I appreciated hearing the different voices and it’s how we find out that under the anger and fear, sadness is also lurking. Love doesn’t erase all of these feelings, but it does help the teens navigate them.
Nazemian includes Judy’s voice, but also makes a point to mention the many women, including women of color, who were part of the resistance. In the ARC, unfortunately, he did not specifically mention Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera when Stonewall is discussed, but in other instances, women are spoken of many times as a powerful part of the movement. This reinforces the theme of the unity and strength of a diverse community. And of course, Madonna is almost on the level of a goddess in the eyes of these teens. It helps to be somewhat familiar with her music since there are many, many references to songs and lyrics, but it’s not necessary. While I was reading, I kept heading to Spotify or YouTube to reminisce or jog my memory. When I was almost finished reading, I realized that Nazemian had created a Spotify playlist. I highly recommend at least listening to some of the songs mentioned if possible. Madonna is not without her issues, but she was certainly an icon of the time and she inspired people with her refusal to conform and her desire to express herself.
Another aspect of this book is revolution. So many people in this book are part of a revolution between ACT UP, Madonna, and the teens. The general public is standing by while thousands die. A revolution is necessary for change.
Art is all about the revolution and Reza isn’t sure revolution is what he wants at all. He’s controlled by fear. He’s realizing he’s a sexual being, but is trying desperately to keep this buried for self-preservation. Kissing is great and more is excruciatingly tempting, but getting past the fear seems impossible.
Recommendation: This coming-of-age novel is truly a love story on many levels. It will speak to many and will also be a window into the past. Teens are often unaware of the full extent of the AIDS crisis and the activism required to get the government and health care community moving on treatment and a cure. It also provides a glimpse into some Persian culture and the experience of Iranian families living in the U.S. following the revolution. Get it soon if you enjoy historical fiction or love stories.