GayYA Recommends: You Know Me Well by David Levithan & Nina Lacour

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GayYA Recommends: You Know Me Well by David Levithan & Nina Lacour

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Who knows you well? Your best friend? Your boyfriend or girlfriend? A stranger you meet on a crazy night? No one, really?

Mark and Kate have sat next to each other for an entire year, but have never spoken. For whatever reason, their paths outside of class have never crossed.

That is until Kate spots Mark miles away from home, out in the city for a wild, unexpected night. Kate is lost, having just run away from a chance to finally meet the girl she has been in love with from afar. Mark, meanwhile, is in love with his best friend Ryan, who may or may not feel the same way.

When Kate and Mark meet up, little do they know how important they will become to each other — and how, in a very short time, they will know each other better than any of the people who are supposed to know them more.

 

You know that feeling when you got a book, and that book got you, too? Yeah.

I went into You Know Me Well expecting a lot, because David Levithan and Nina Lacour are two of my favorite writers. And oh, this book did not disappoint. (This is actual footage of me during the last quarter of the book.)

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Kate’s best friend Lehna is trying to set Kate up with Lehna’s cousin, Violet. Kate and Violet have known about each other for years but have never met or spoken. Right before they’re going to meet, Kate freaks out and runs away, and gets lost in the city. She ends up stumbling into a gay club, where she meets Mark.

Mark is at the club with his best friend Ryan, who he’s in love with. They’ve fooled around, but Ryan treats it like it’s nothing. Mark assumes this will change over time– at the club, however, Ryan meets another guy and falls hard for him, finally beginning to feel comfortable with things that Mark thought he just needed time for.

I really want to talk about all of the other things this book did that I haven’t seen before, or at least haven’t seen much of. Because there were SO MANY THINGS!

When David Levithan signed my book he called it “extraordinarily gay and extraordinarily YA” and honestly, that is exactly how I would summarize You Know Me Well. There are at least 15 queer characters in this book, and the whole thing is rife with different aspects of queer culture. It was so incredible! Because of all that gayness, David and Nina were able to 1) capture SO many different queer experiences without holding any up as the queer experience and 2) center queer friendship in a way that hasn’t yet been done.

"To The GayYA Team: This book is extraordinarily gay and extraordinarily YA, so it's perfect for you." -- David Levithan

“To The GayYA Team: This book is extraordinarily gay and extraordinarily YA, so it’s perfect for you.” — David Levithan

Most of the characters in You Know Me Well are already out, which is a super cool and needed thing in LGBTQIA+ YA. But one of the things I appreciated most about this book was how it handled being closeted and coming out. Ryan (Mark’s best friend), is eighteen, and not out. As an eighteen year old who came out to my parents only a few weeks ago, his storyline was so important to me. Ryan’s subplot is about being in the closet, but this book doesn’t use it. Some books use a character being closeted as the major conflict in a romance– the other character thinks that the one who isn’t out doesn’t love themselves enough, isn’t brave enough. That’s such an oversimplification of it. For me, it was never a question of bravery or not loving myself enough. It was wanting to keep this small, quiet, comfortable, and bold part of me inside my own body where my family couldn’t judge it or ask invasive questions about it or doubt it or prod at it or poke it. This is the only book I’ve read that has treated coming out with such sensitivity, that has had other characters treat it with such sensitivity, and it was so incredibly validating.

Another new thing You Know Me Well does is center queer friendship. Most queer YA books center romance. Don’t get me wrong, I’m SO here for queer romance. But romance is not all there is to being a young adult. Many young adults don’t date in highschool, or date very little. And if they do date it’s not necessarily the most important part of their experience. The majority of queer YA centering romance detracts from another very real and valid thing that can affirm queer identity: friendship with other queer people. In a lot of queer YA, the romantic interest is the only other queer person the main character knows. While that is certainly a reality for some, it is not the only reality. Queer people find community… sometimes accidentally. Nearly every single one of my friends I made when I was ten slowly all came out as something over the last eight years. I can practically count my straight, cisgender friends using only one hand. Friendships with other LGBTQIA+ people are what validated my identity and my experiences and I’ve heard many other LGBTQIA+ teens say the same. So it was so fantastic to see this reflected in a book.

You Know Me Well showcases all the ups, downs, twists and turns in queer friendship and says this, this a valid experience too. It’s great. I could relate to literally everyone, too. I felt for Mark, being used and strung along by someone who never plans to deliver and then turns around and says it’s your fault for expecting more. But I understood Ryan SO WELL, too. And Kate… Kate. Oh my god. MY PRECIOUS ANXIOUS BB. I related to her story so much. I had a few friends like Lehna, who put down everything I did, told me I wasn’t good enough, and then looked down on me for feeling like I wasn’t good enough.

There was a minor genderqueer character! They were only on for like three pages, but it meant so much to me to have them included, and to have the narration switch effortlessly to using they/them pronouns.

I would’ve loved to see one or two characters that were bi, pan, asexual, or aromantic. There were SO MANY experiences represented that it seemed odd not to have those identities represented. That said, I understand that one book can’t hit everything!

The writing was really good, but a bit off-putting at the beginning. During the first quarter, the characters were so stilted they didn’t really feel like humans. I could understand the situations they were in, but it seemed like they couldn’t. There were a lot of situations at the beginning that were really unusual, like Kate and Mark striking up a friendship. That type of thing totally happens! But usually when it does, you’re aware of how weird it is. The characters felt disconnected from their own reality. I was confused because like I said earlier, the authors are two of my very favorite writers! By the time I got to the end, though, I saw it all in a completely different light. The characters seemed distanced from their situations because they actually weren’t able to connect with their situations. They were so locked up inside themselves that they couldn’t understand what was happening around them or to them. As the book progressed, they became more aware and connected. (Or at least, that’s how I read it. Other people may have different opinions, but I thought it was brilliant!)

Some people have said that this book was too angsty and dramatic for their tastes. I can totally see that, especially during the first third or so, but I also felt like it fit. It was clear to me that that wasn’t how these characters lives usually were like, and it just happened that the book started at a time when crap started going down. It did get a little overwhelming at the beginning, but again, I thought it really picked up about a third of the way through.

All in all I thought this book was well-written, so so needed, and exactly what one would expect from such amazing writers as David Levithan and Nina Lacour. After I finished it I walked around stunned for a few hours, shocked that a single book had been able to capture so many bits of me, that these authors could see me. It’s like thunder in your chest when that happens, like a hummingbird in your heart.

You Know Me Well is our June #GayYABookClub pick. It releases on June 7th– so pick up a copy from your local bookstore or library, use the #GayYABookClub hashtag to share your reading progress, and join us June 29th at 8pm EST for a final Twit Chat! 🙂

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Vee S. lives in Minnesnowta. They like books, writing, writing about books, theatre, and feminism. Vee is a volunteer at Addendum Books, a freshly-minted library aide, and the admin of GayYA.Org. Find them online and on Twitter at@findmereading

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