It seems like I’ve been on a bit of a YA romance kick this year, and I think it’s because there is nothing quite like a sweet story about first loves. And this thoughtful novel by writing-duo Christina Lauren delves not only into this area of young love, but also largely focuses on what it means to grow up queer in a largely religious area that doesn’t support this facet of humanity.
Autoboygraphy is largely from the point of view of a teenager named Tanner, who moved about 2 years earlier to Provo Utah: back home, he was openly bisexual with both his family and the community there, but upon moving to this largely Mormon city in Utah, his mother has urged Tanner to be careful about outing himself, after her own negative experiences with the church in the past. While a bit stifling for Tanner, this is all well and good until the mentor for one of his writing courses that graduated the year before strikes something in his heart: this being Sebastian, the local bishop’s son, who immediately has a rapport with Tanner, who now can’t help but complicate things in having his heart flow out onto the autobiographical pages of his writing assignment.
What we have here is a story about attraction, falling in love, and all the complications that can come with it. In this case, we have a boy who is secure in his sexuality but feels the need to stay closeted where he is, paired up with another who is exploring his own sexuality in relation to the religion that he grew up in and continues to surround himself with; looming over all of this is the constant threat of accidentally being outed in a place and situation that neither boy really wants to deal with at this time, but also the wondering about whether or not they want to stay secret and how much this may be harming them internally.
Something I love about this novel is how thoughtful it is, and how it manages to balance both the fun rapport between the two boys and the deeper more serious conversations they need to have in order to understand exactly what their relationship is and what it means to each of them. One of the things discussed that I really appreciated was on the subject of bisexuality and how this is often perceived by others; in many of books I’ve read in the past where the protagonist has had attractions of multiple genders it has been boiled down to “I like kissing girls and I like kissing boys and that’s just how it is” which is a great way to feel as an individual, and I wish it really were that simple. But here we actually get to see some more of the complexities and misunderstandings a lot of people have being discussed.
There is also a strong feeling portrayed in this novel of the overbearing nature to the Mormon church, as well as that of being on the side of supporting those queer people who are affected by the oppressiveness of it. Yet the authors do not make an outright villain of religion or the Mormon faith: while we see the struggle and feel for what Sebastian is going through, a point is also made to explain why he feels drawn to his faith and what it provides for him in terms of prayer, family, and sense of larger community.
All of these aspects develop into both a meaningful yet sweet story. The only thing that I really have to complain about is how the story unfolds in the later sections of the novel. After being from Tanner’s point of view for almost the entire novel, we suddenly switch to Sebastians; this at first is a little jarring but ultimately I think the reader benefits from seeing his thought process in regards to his faith and relationships. And then, because of how effective it is, I wish there were more from Sebastian’s viewpoint, either throughout the novel or at least more during the closing sections. There is pretty pivotal moment for Sebastian near the conclusion which we see the leadup to but not the ultimate action and confrontation for, which I believe would have really rounded everything out rather than switching directly back to Tanner’s POV at this crucial moment.
That said, I very much enjoyed Autoboyography; there are many layers to this young adult story that are very well-balanced in my opinion, and and I would not be surprised if I found myself looking to read it again in the future.