A heartfelt, emotional book on authenticity, expectations, and courage to be yourself.
The protagonist, 17-year-old Remy Cameron, is in his junior year of high school. He would like to attend a prestigious college nearby, so that he can be closer to his family -his wonderful, supportive parents and his seven-year-old sister Willow. Remy might look different from his parents and Willow, but he is very much a part of his family. He is also lots of other things: honest and brave (he came out at 14 and is the President of Maplewood school Gay Straight Alliance Club), confident and popular. When his AP Lit teacher, who he really looks up to, sets an essay on the topic of Identity, Remy is torn. He would like to do his best to write a great essay, but he is afraid he might fail, because he doesn’t really know what he is.
We have no control over what labels others give us, but we can define who we are by the ones we choose to give ourselves.
This is not a plot-driven book, it is very introspective, despite its light and upbeat tone. The main topic is that of labels (you can call them statuses we assign ourselves or get assigned by other people). You can see yourself as a family member– Remy’s is the firstborn of his family and takes his responsibilities of a doting older brother very seriously. His Dad also chose a University closer to his home, so that he could help his younger brother Dawson go through a difficult period of his life. Remy adores Willow ( how can anybody not admire her courageous and flamboyant fashion choices?). He also thinks a lot about his parents’ marriage, and is probably subconsciously trying to work out a model for his future relationships. Remy’s parents’ love and support are unconditional. I really enjoyed the scene where he accidentally meets his ex and his mom senses his feelings and difuses the situation. The fact that he is adopted means he has a whole new set of questions to ask himself, but he is a part of a very happy, solid family.
Being a friend (best friend, good friend, loyal friend, absent friend)or a student of a particular school is also a label. Remy’s friends are a very diverse group. I must admit I thought that perhaps there were too many secondary characters, but then again, we meet so many people in our lives, some of which are going to stay on the periphery, helping us to define our core group of support.
Does being black define him? Remy doesn’t know anything about his biological parents- not that it has been a problem so far, although we see that he is very much aware of what it means to be one out of only five black students in his school. When Remy meets his biological half-sister, some of his questions get answered. She also tells him that, although he needs to know his history, the struggles and the victories, these things do not define who he is. They are just a part of him.
Although Remy’s sexuality is a big part of him, it isn’t all. When the school counsellor keeps suggesting universities with a strong LGBTQIA presence, Remy knows she isn’t even trying to see him as a whole, but only as somebody who can be pigeonholed and fast-tracked to success defined by other people.
Mrs Scott sees me as a gay, black teen she can guide to success… My world is filled with identities overshadowing who I am. Who I think I am.
When we meet Remy, he is already pretty much over the break up of his first serious relationship. As we all know, being in or out of a relationship can also be a powerful label/ status. Some students at his school will only see or recognise him as an ex-boyfriend of another popular student. I liked the slow-burn romance in this book, and the way the author discusses the importance of consent in a subtle way. It isn’t just in Ian’s asking ‘Can I hold your hand?’- yes, you should be aware that not everybody is comfortable with being touched, and not everybody is comfortable with sharing one’s personal space, to say nothing of taking the relationship to a new level. It is also in Remy’s sensitivity towards his friend who might or might not want to join the GSA club. He is very careful not to impose his help or support, or make assumptions about people needing them.
I found Remy’s reflections on his coming out very perceptive:
The thing is, you always have to come out. Every day. To new people, to people you have known forever, to people who keep trying to ignore it.
You reveal yourself, who you think you are, to people around you. Every day. To people who love and know and support you. To new people. With some of them, it is going to be easy, with others – awkward. Yet another group of people will not accept you or care or even acknowledge that you exist and are a unique human being. You will always remain invisible or pigeonholed to them.
We also change as we go through our lives and some of the facets of our identity, personality and experience become more prominent, while others fade away or become distant history. As we reveal ourselves to people around us, this is our choice to be what we think we are, not what somebody else expects us to be.
Thank you to Edelweiss and Duet Books for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.
- Have you read How To Be Remy Cameron or is it on your tbr?
- Have you read other books by Julian Winters?
- How free are we to choose our own labels?