If you asked anyone in his small Vermont town, they’d tell you the facts: James Liddell, star athlete, decent student and sort-of boyfriend to cute, peppy Theresa, is a happy, funny, carefree guy.
But whenever James sits down at his desk to write, he tells a different story. As he fills his drawers with letters to the people in his world–letters he never intends to send–he spills the truth: he’s trying hard, but he just isn’t into Theresa. It’s a boy who lingers in his thoughts.
He feels trapped by his parents, his teammates, and the lies they’ve helped him tell, and he has no idea how to escape. Is he destined to live a life of fiction?
This book, in essence, is one of self-discovery and introspection for the main character James Liddell, who is stuck between two lives. One is the fictional life he lives – the one where he’s almost-boyfriend to a hot girl, and a great athlete, with great friends that also lead a sports life. The other is the one he lives in the letters he writes to people in his life, where he pours his feelings in. While this book carries more of a light tone in regards to homosexuality, the internal conflict going on within James is very easy to identify with and I found it quite realistic.
The author does a great job in making you experience James’ inner turmoil on coming out of the closet. In the town where he lives, people are not so forgiving about gays. It wouldn’t come as a surprise that he isn’t quite comfortable telling anyone, then. His straightforward narrative makes this book easy to read and you’ll find yourself turning the pages quite quickly – sometimes a little too quickly, in my case. A lot of descriptions were became mundane quick and James’ repetitive arguments got a bit tiresome for me as I read more speedily to head towards the dialogue – where things started developing.
The plot is a little bit reminiscent of Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, as the letters that James wrote suddenly gets taken and sent to the people he addressed them to (just as Simon is blackmailed with his relationship from Blue in the previous book). However, the writing and overall plot development lends a very different air than Simon Vs. In True Letters From A Fictional Life, the letters don’t carry on the story; rather, they just make for an addition that addresses James’ inner thoughts. I found the letters themselves to be simple and straight to the point – nothing flowery going on over there. The whole writing style is just blunt and direct. The author gets to the point (other than the descriptions I got tired of) and this way we get to see a lot of what’s on James’ mind.
Essentially, he’s confused. He wants to like girls. He really does (as is so evident in his almost comedic letter to God). But the fact of the matter is that James has known he’s attracted to boys since middle school. The only problem is that nobody else knows, which makes him think of himself as living two lives. As I read his thoughts, I found that I could totally get where he’s coming from. How can he really be him if he has to subdue a part of his personality? As an adolescent girl, I can easily see how someone may have misgivings on coming out – or being themselves in general – when having such a secret from friends and family. In an area where people are openly homophobic, it’s no wonder.
“It doesn’t matter whether you feel courageous. Make them believe you are. You win this one by acting like you’re a happy, calm, strong kid, even when you don’t feel that way.”
Throughout the story, people in James’ life start figuring out his actual sexuality while he himself starts accepting that fact, with some unexpected help from a sweet love interest. I just had a personal problem with James’ personality in general. While I enjoyed reading about his inner turmoil on coming out and the reactions of his friends and family, I was also exasperated at the way he held things off so much. A friend would suggest to meet up and he would always hold it off for an amount of time. On one hand, I get how scared he feels to be upfront about the conflict going on and how he doesn’t want to see what the results of his actions would be. On the other, I can’t help but get frustrated since I’m the type of person to just CONFRONT the other party about a problem we have. I’m a doer, not a pusher-to-the-next-week. This personal problem was just me and James not meshing. However, the interspersed funny and cute moments in the book did make up for my frowny-face at James’ antics.
“‘Congrats, James Liddel.’ He laughed. ‘You made it!’
I broke our kiss. ‘Made it where?’ I whispered, running my hands up his arms.
‘Wherever we are. This place without secrets. It feels good, right?’
I put my chin on his chest. ‘I have never, ever felt this free.’”
To put it simply, True Letters From A Fictional Life follows James as he discovers who he is, who he wants to be, and how that may affect the people around him. Readers glimpse the reactions of both his friends and family after coming out, and the consequences that happen. While some of those consequences just warms your heart, others crack it a bit by how intolerant people can be. In the end, this journey of self-discovery made for a satisfying, light read that essentially fills your heart when exploring the familial relationship and friendships that are affected by one boy’s choice of sexuality.
“But also, I could remember him telling me that he just decided he had to make a choice. He could either be who everyone wanted him to be – and be miserable – or he could just ignore people who hated him, be himself, and be happy.”
Thank you Ashley Herring Blake (author of Suffer Love) for hosting a giveaway for an ARC of this book!