Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian
Published by Balzer + Bray on June 4th, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction, LGBTQIA, Young Adult
“The most important four-letter word in our history will always be LOVE. That’s what we are fighting for. That’s who we are. Love is our legacy.”
*ARC received via Edelweiss+ in exchange for an honest review.
If Mackenzi Lee and Taylor Jenkins Reid give a book 5 stars then you have to read it. I’m just stating the facts. So I did, in fact, request this ARC after seeing that two of my favourite authors gave this book such high praise. But I also recognized the author’s name because he’s a producer on Call Me By Your Name.
Like a Love Story is set in New York City in 1989 where the world is changing for three teens. Reza is an Iranian boy who’s moved to the city with his mom to live with his stepfather and stepbrother. He’s terrified that someone will find out he’s gay and he’s scared of the term himself since all he knows about gay life are the shocking images of men dying from AIDS.
Judy is an aspiring fashion designer who worships her uncle Stephen, a gay man with AIDS who dedicates all his time to activism as a member of ACT UP. And Art is Judy’s best friend who is currently the only out and proud teen in their school. He’s rebels against his conservative parents by documenting the AIDS crisis through his photographs. The three teens struggle to maintain their friendship while growing up amidst the backdrop of the AIDS epidemic.
Many young people (myself included) weren’t alive to experience the devastation that occurred within the LGBTQIA community during the ’80s and the ’90s. And reading this book was an eye-opening experience.
I thought I would roll my eyes at the love triangle trope, but I was pleasantly surprised by how little space it took up in the grand scheme of the things. Nazemian took more time exploring how Judy, Art, and Reza are all dealing with identity in different ways.
Judy is heterosexual, but she is a young woman growing up and finding her voice against sizeism and sexism. Art is out and proud, but he’s figuring out how he can best be served in the LGBTQIA community. Reza is struggling with his sexuality, but also his identity as an Iranian young man.
The time period is just as important as the characters. I wasn’t sure how the AIDS epidemic would be treated in the book. Nazemian could’ve glossed over it or romanticized it in order to fit into the mold of a typical YA coming-of-age story. But, no. Nazemian wrote about it in a very respectful way, but also showed the horrors that went along with it.
Sometimes, books that deal with dark subject matter can end on a depressing note. There are no words of hope or encouragement. Yes, it’s about those who fought and those who died from AIDS. But Nazemian also wrote a story about finding hope and heart within the LGBTQIA community. He used his characters to remind people that it’s hard to learn how to love yourself and others, but you have to do this in the face of hatred and bigotry. And in classic YA coming-of-age fashion, it’s also about finding a support system to guide you through tough times.
One of the biggest takeaways I got from the story was the importance of art and self-expression. And using that to document history. Uncle Stephen reminds the young adults that it’s important to remember those who came before us so that we can continue the fight for them.
Let me tell you — this book is a tearjerker. I definitely had tears streaming down my face during the last third of the book because it was sad, but uplifting in the end.
The only reason why this didn’t become a 5 bubble tea read for me was because I wish we got to learn more about Uncle Stephen and Jimmy. The two men who both had HIV and witnessed hundreds around them pass away from the virus.
I would recommend this to anyone looking for something a bit different in the YA space. Most of the LGBTQIA content is set in the present and this was a nice change of pace from that.