Ellen is a fourteen year-old who doesn’t need many friends. She has all the company she needs in her older brother Link and his best friend James, with whom she is “totally madly in love”. But as they enter their senior year of high school and Ellen is finally going to the same school as her two favourite people in the world, she sees how the two boys are the objects of much speculation and begins to ask questions of her own. About the nature of Link and James’ relationship. About the nature of love and of whether or not you can really know somebody else and about the art of seeing.
What this novel lacks in volume it makes up for in intensity. Written in the first person, Ellen is from the very beginning struggling to understand the “unwritten social laws” that remain just beyond her comprehension. She doesn’t understand a lot of what is going on with her brilliant but secretive brother and James. And when she finally decides to ask the question, “Are you gay?”. The result is not an answer so much as a catalyst to a watershed of events and experiences that lead to a particularly moving coming of age.
I myself am struggling to put into words why this book moved me so much. Perhaps it is because on some level I identify with quiet, socially awkward Ellen. How the unwritten social laws have always seemed as mysterious as the Kabbala to me just as they are to Ellen. Maybe it is the beautiful relationship she has with her brother- their relationship is full of mutual love and respect and even admiration. But I think it might be Ellen’s acute vulnerability in general but especially when it comes to her relationship with James, who loves her as much as he loves her brother. About how love is complicated and means so much more than just sex but how sex , touching, tenderness is also a big part of it.
I also love how Freymann-Weyr approaches the issue of homosexuality and bisexuality- how it doesn’t really matter what kind of plumbing the person has or who they are attracted to but that the other person is willing to reciprocate the love. How love is the same for everyone, no matter what their sexuality: we all just want to love and be loved back.
For only 154 pages, this book packs in a lot of heady stuff. This is one of the best, most lovely, tender, heart-breaking love stories/coming of age (the two so often go hand in hand) I have ever read for young adults.