Synopsis: Everyone assumes that Zee is a lesbian. Her classmates, her gym buddies, even her so-called best friend. So many people think that Zee likes girls, even Zee is starting to wonder. Could they be onto something?
Everyone assumes that Art is gay. They take one look at his nice clothes and his pretty face and think: well, obviously.
But there’s more to Zee and Art than anyone realizes. When Art first meets Zee, he knows he’s found someone special–someone magical. Zee may not be able to see that magic in herself, but Art is bound and determined to show it to her.
What develops is a powerful connection between two people who are beautiful in all the ways they’ve been told are strange. As they explore their own complexities in gender, sexuality, and identity, they fall for the complexities they find in each other. With his trademark frankness, B.T. Gottfred delves inside both characters’ heads in this story about love and living authentically.
THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SO MANY SPOILERS AND SWEARING, SO READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!
I’m so confused how to rate this. Currently, I have set it at two stars, but I don’t know if it’s going to stay that way in the future because this book . . . this book aggravated me.
I took notes, both in a separate notebook and as I updated my progress.
I guess we can start with what I did like: the theme of the story, the dedication . . . um. The short chapters? Those were nice. Helped read the book faster, in any case.
If you were to go through all of my status updates on Goodreads while reading, you’ll quickly notice that I had to start over at some point, and that was because I first began reading The Handsome Girl & Her Beautiful Boy via the Libby app on my phone, but couldn’t finish it in time before it had to be sent back. So I found a physical copy at my local library and thought I’d be able to speed-read through this despite its size, but I was kind of wrong. Turns out, frequently, I had to put the book down because I can only handle Zee (one of the main character POVs) in small doses.
You learn pretty quickly that Zee’s mom has breast cancer, has apparently had breast cancer for years, and they currently live with her mom’s boyfriend Michael, whom I still have no idea what his role was besides being the asshole guardian after Zee’s mom dies (even though she alludes to being emancipated). Her mom left her some money and a letter with information about her birth father, but she doesn’t get to read it until the end and Michael did something with the money that’s never fucking explained, so you’re left guessing, and honestly, I fail to see what the point was even including this mysterious money that nobody — not even Zee — is upset about it being gone.
Zee has been in love with her best friend Cam since sixth grade, I guess. We’re told this, so much so we’re practically beat over the head with it, but not once does she explain why or how or what the fuck she even sees in him. I guess we’re supposed think that it has something to do with him being so “masculine” and “manly,” but as you get further along in the story, Cam isn’t as “tough” as he’s made out to be.
Which, I understand the point, can appreciate it even, but at the same time, Cam kind of came off as a bit sexist and misogynistic, seemingly manipulating Zee into kissing him and trying to pressure her into letting him in her pant(ie)s that, when she refused, he’d get all teary-eyed at being rejected and then she’d literally feel guilty that she doesn’t want to do anything with him because, get this, she says she’s been “in love” with him since sixth grade and she somehow thinks she fucking owes it to Cam to “try” at being more than friends, I guess, with her supposed best friend because fuck, I don’t know.
Exhibit A: Pg. 220
I say, mostly because I need a break, “You’re a great kisser.” WHY AM I LYING FOR NO REASON! Maybe I think this is what girls do.
Then he says, “Am I the first guy you’ve kissed?” Motherf-er. He thinks I’m the bad kisser!
“No,” I say, and crap, I think I laugh.
“You’ve been with other guys?” His lips are doing this macho pout. Like I’ve wronged him.
“Who?” Dude wants me to name names.
“Why, you gonna beat them up?” I try to lighten things up. Doesn’t work.
Then the raw me can’t stop myself from saying, “Holy shit, Cam, ease back on your stupid jealous-dude thing. You’ve been with Abigail for almost two years. I’m not the type to sit in my room and pine for a guy.” Even though that’s what I did.
“I thought you were a lesbian!”
“Are you telling me that seeing me in that fucking skirt is the first time you thought, ‘Hey, wait, maybe she’s straight?”
He says nothing because that’s exactly the first time he thought it.
Like, what the fuck, right? Oh, but we’re not done.
Exhibit B: Pg. 221
“Newsflash: Not all straight chicks like to wear skirts and not all lesbians wear cargo pants.” Asshole.
And he knows it. He’s fucking crushed. He slumps, eyes big and wet, mouth quivering. Jesus! Thought I’d be done with crushing boys when I was done with Art.
“I’m sorry,” I say, even though he was a jerk.
“You’ve never talked like that to me before.”
“I was upset.”
“I thought I was done with drama when I broke up with Abigail,” he says. If he thinks he’s laying his fake jealous righteousness on me, well.
WHAT THE HELL DOES SHE EVEN SEE IN THIS ASSHOLE?
On that same goddamned page, a little farther down, there’s a beat of silence between Cam and Zee, and then Cam pipes up with, “Can I say something weird?” which is just him admitting that he’s turned on and fucking Zee, in her own goddamned head, has no idea why he’d be aroused by their fight and admits to her own goddamned self that she’s “as turned off as she could get,” and yet, AND YET . . . she looks down at his crotch and replies with, “Oh, really?”
Like it’s supposed to be sexy but THERE IS NOTHING AT ALL SEXY ABOUT THIS SITUATION.
Also on this page, after another make-out session, Zee actually says, AGAIN IN HER GODDAMNED HEAD, that Cam “wanting to hookup” is somehow fucking “cooler” than finding her attractive.
I haven’t even touched on Art, yet. Apologies. It’s just that, once I get on a tangent about Zee and Cam, I see red and then forget about every other character until I get it out of my system, but I think I need to get away from the Cam/Zee clusterfuck dynamic, so let’s talk about Art.
He’s 16. A year younger than Zee, which I don’t care about, but oftentimes his actions have a tendency to make him come across as if he’s younger than that, and makes me forget that he’s supposed to be 16, which made a lot of the more mature scenes kind of uncomfortable at first glance.
He’s dramatic. He yells a lot for emphasis, and while all the caps-lock throughout the book annoys the shit out of me (he’s not the only who yells, everyone else does too) I can’t really comment on that because if you haven’t noticed in this review already, I’ve done my own share of caps-lock yelling, so yes, I see the irony/hypocrisy.
So Art meets Zee for the first time on a Monday night when she and Cam are supposed to be having one of their “pizza dinners” at a pizzeria that they frequent, but they’re going to be joined by Cam’s girlfriend Abigail (aka Art’s sister) and Abigail is forced to bring her brother along, so now it’s like an unintentional double date except the only one between Art and Zee who’s attracted to the other is Art. Zee is blinded by her supposed love for Cam, and Art connects the dots and is kind of heartbroken for whatever reason, and Zee feels guilty about not liking Art back so she gives him her number.
This is probably my main issue with Zee: her fucking guilt. She can never say no to anyone even though she really wants to. For someone who sees herself above the peer pressure, she sure does seem susceptible to it. You can guilt-trip her into anything and it’s so annoying, it pisses me off. She’s such a fucking doormat.
Anyway, Art and Zee start hanging out more after her mom dies because Cam can’t be bothered to check in with his supposed best friend to see how the fuck she’s holding up, and Art is there because he comes off as caring. Which is sweet. And just puts another tally in the, “WTF does Zee see in Cam?” column because there’s literally no redeeming quality that he has.
This book is supposed to be a book about sexuality and the stereotypes surrounding them. Everyone who knows both Zee and Art thinks that they’re gay because of their likes and dislikes. People think Zee is lesbian because she has short hair, wears hoodies and cargo pants, and likes CrossFit; people think Art is gay because he dresses well, has a skincare routine (which, can I get some tips please?), and doesn’t like sports. Throughout this book, everyone around them are essentially saying that they know Art’s and Zee’s sexuality better than they know themselves, which is bullshit. It’s a great theme.
But it’s also overshadowed by this shit that passes for a love triangle. Or, I guess in Art’s case, it’s technically a love square when you add Jayden into the mix.
Like, this is the worst representation of a love triangle that I have ever read. Going back to the Cam and Zee example from earlier, when she leaves Cam hanging to go back to the motel that she’s living in with Art (his parents are awful, and his dad may as well be dead), on Pg. 227 they snuggle together in one of the two beds and she tells Art that she loves him.
Then Zee becomes the biggest bitch she’s ever been. Like, she reached cuntdom levels of bitch, and breaks up with Art because she snooped on his phone and found a text conversation between him and Jayden. Then she got undeservedly pissed LIKE SHE WASN’T DOING THE SAME GODDAMNED THING WITH CAM, so he packs his shit and leaves. As soon as he returns home, he finds out his father, after spending a good majority of the book in a catatonic, drunk state on the couch because he lost his job and his wife (who’s now living with someone much younger), just landed a job thanks to Art’s other sibling Alex, at another insurance firm in Ohio, so now they have to pack up the house and be ready to move soon.
Then for some reason Zee starts semi-questioning her own sexuality (after spending most of the book swearing that she’s straight) when she agrees to hang out with other girls her age for once. I don’t have a problem with Zee questioning her sexuality, but I do have a problem when I think that that questioning was just kind of an afterthought. And by afterthought all I mean is that she doesn’t really “question” anything. She just decides to hang out with two girls, one of whom happens to be lesbian, and they share one kiss with
the lesbian Iris ending things with, “I’m not ready for someone who’s not ready,” and then nothing more is said about it. More focus was put towards Art and his short-lived relationship with Jayden.
Speaking of which, I’m still unsure what purpose Jayden served other than for Art to question his sexuality. None of the side characters, in fact, were all that interesting to me. They were all pretty much throwaway characters; no substance. I feel like the writing didn’t exactly help matters, either. It was so over the top, every single character was a caricature of him or herself. I wouldn’t have minded if only one character (Art) was the dramatic one who yelled all the time, as annoying as it was, but when it’s almost everyone? I can’t take anyone seriously when they speak of labels and sexuality and whatever else.
What I really hate, however, is something I pointed out earlier: that this story makes it seem as if someone has to be one or the other with no in-between. They’re so focused on labels and which ones they fall under, but they’re not looking beyond heterosexuality and homosexuality. Bisexuality is very briefly mentioned, and Art’s friend Carolina, after he’s hung out with Jayden a couple of times, briefly brought up sexual fluidity, but nothing else is ever touched on.
And then there’s a scene near the end of the book, at some party that’s really just the setup for a big, dramatic climax, that results in Art getting beaten to a bloody pulp and ends up in the hospital for, like, a day before he’s released so quickly and without any kind of medical advice for how to treat his wounds (the kid was unconscious and had a concussion). I wasn’t expecting to read a lot of medical jargon, but come on. If you’re going to include a hospital scene, at least make it somewhat realistic. Regardless of how well a patient is/has healed, as far as I know, they don’t typically walk out of the hospital on two feet. At the very least, they’re wheeled to the entrance and then transferred to a car.
Then there’s a scene with Art and his despicable dad and their seemingly final interaction was glossed over like it wasn’t a big fucking deal, but really. What the hell kind of a shit father would say something like this to his own child:
Exhibit C: Pg. 386
“Where have you been?”
“I was in the hospital. Thanks for coming by.”
“Your sister got arrested, and I had to deal with her. I knew your friend here would take care of you.”
Art gets the last word in with, “Dad, I took care of you all summer . . . Today I need to take care of me,” and the chapter ends with some kind of revelation from his father perhaps “seeing him, the real him, for the first time,” before Art and Zee drive off into the metaphorical sunset where she asks her biological father to let Art live with them as well as help him become emancipated like her.
Which, speaking of Zee’s biological dad. There’s another thing in this book that pissed me off: when Zee’s bio-dad finds his way back into her life after her mom dies and she learns of his existence, there’s a point in the story, on Page 183, when Zee (in her inner dialogue) tells Art that she thinks her Middle Eastern father is a terrorist because of how he looks. And like, yeah, she immediately recognizes that she sounds like a racist asshole after thinking it, but why does that need to be in the book to begin with? There’s literally been nothing leading up to her silent accusation that leads anyone to believe that Arshad, the biological father, is a terrorist. Nothing. At all.
Or a drug dealer, for that matter. Like, Zee is so desperate to hate her biological father that she’s willing to think the absolute fucking worst about him just to justify her hate. All she needs is the fact that, when her father got her mom pregnant, he said horrible shit and apparently wanted her aborted. She could’ve just stuck with that. It was wholly unnecessary for her to make up something so horrid about her father like saying he’s a terrorist or a drug dealer. Like yeah, sure, he’s a recovering junkie, I get it, but her reasoning for assuming that he deals drugs felt uneducated and ignorant, and really, it just made me hate her character more. Just because someone has $1,200 in cash lying around does not mean they’re dealing drugs. And just because someone’s a recovering addict does not mean that they’re dealing drugs.
Anyway, I’m done here. I can’t talk anymore about this book because I feel like my blood is literally boiling with how upset it’s making me. Kudos for tackling a difficult topic such as sexuality and all its stereotypes, but this was just like a badly written soap opera.
P.S. If you have to tell everyone, even the reader, how “hilarious” you are, chances are you’re not. To anyone else who may want to read this: don’t drink every time you come across a character saying, “ha.” I don’t want you to die.
Overall Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.