“Now he’s dancing alone, deep in the crowd, eyes closed, letting the music slowly rip him up and put him back together. The DJ is good- the music streams together effortlessly, like a river that has no beginning and no end– song after song after song until he has no idea how long he’s been dancing for– hours? days? Dancing so long, he can’t feel anything anymore– not the pain of being along, not the joy of being alone.” -Merey
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Publisher’s blurb: “Asher Machnik is a teenage boy cursed with a beautiful androgynous face. Guys punch him, girls slag him and by high school he’s developed an intense fear of being touched. Art remains his only escape from an otherwise emotionally empty life. Eulalie Mason is the lonely, tough-talking dyke from school who befriends Ash. The only one to see and accept all of his sides as a loner, a fellow artist and a best friend, she’s starting to wonder if ash [sic] is ever going to see all of her…. a + e 4EVER is a graphic novel set in that ambiguous crossroads where love and friendship, boy and girl, straight and gay meet. It goes where few books have ventured, into genderqueer life, where affections aren’t black and white. An honoree for the 2012 Stonewall Book Award – Mike Morgan & Larry Romans Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award given annually to English-language children’s and young adult books of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience.” (Lethe Press Inc., ©2011)
I feel conflicted about this book.
This story is unlike anything I’ve ever read before, in the best possible way. The characters are dynamic and not easy to pin down, from a gender or sexual orientation standpoint. I loved the depiction of punk/goth high-schoolers, having been one myself, and I think both Ash and Eu are realistic and interesting characters.
Their relationship also struck me as very realistic. They’re friends, but there’s also an unrequited crush and then things get complicated. I think that experience is fairly common for teenagers: you’re working on building your identity, but sometimes who you are and what you want isn’t clear (come to think of it, I think that applies to everyone, not just teenagers). The characters each go through their own heartbreaks and struggles, they leave and come back to each other for their own reasons and with their own motivations.
I’m certainly not an expert, but I think I’d compare the art style to anime. Sometimes the drawings are detailed and elegant, other times they’re more like stylized manga-type sketches.
There were a few things I wasn’t crazy about, but I think that has more to do with me as a reader. I don’t know why, but I think I was expecting this to be a romantic story, and I’m not sure I’d classify it that way. It’s about love and lust but I’m not sure I’d call it romantic. The whole feel is much edgier, darker and grittier than I was anticipating, which again, is not the books fault, but my own. I just wanted to put it out there for other people who are thinking about reading it.
I also thought Ash was kind of a jerk. He doesn’t always treat Eu very well and it made me mad, but again- I think their portrayals are realistic, and I think we’ve all had the experience of watching a friend fall for the wrong person, but there’s just no talking them out of it.
** Possible spoilers and sensitive content warning**
This book is rough- there’s a drugged rape scene, language I personally don’t care for, and some references to sibling incest. I’m not upset that they’re included, but I wanted to give other readers an idea of what they’re getting into. Like I said before, I think I was expecting a romantic story of two outsiders finding solace in each other, and while I got that (kind of), I’m not sure I was in the right frame of mind for everything else.
So would I recommend this book? It’s a tentative yes, and would depend entirely on the individual person. ‘a + e 4ever’ is so unique and I think it’s important to see that labels aren’t the be-all, end-all of gender or sexuality. Ash and Eu don’t fall into neat or easy categories, which I think is much more like real life. However, I would caution readers that there are some very heavy, possibly triggering topics, and to be aware of that before picking it up.
Based on this list, I was thinking that ‘a + e 4ever’ would be about a trans character, but Merey made it clear in an interview that labels aren’t always as straightforward as we’d like to think. So I’m going to honor that idea and say that this is a story about two people, whose sexuality and gender identities aren’t clear-cut.
In a previous post I also referred to Merey as a #ownvoices author, but again, the interview reveals that labels are not always the most accurate way to describe somebody. Without any additional information, I will leave my other post as-is, but if it needs to be changed I will certainly do that.