Desert Isle Keeper
I stayed up late to read this book. I woke up early to read this book. I was late to appointments because I was reading this book. I read it in the car (while waiting on someone), and if I could have read it in the shower, I would have read it there. Can you tell? I absolutely loved Christina Lauren’s amazing Autoboyography.
Tanner Scott is back in the closet. When the bi-sexual teen’s family moved from progressive Palo Alto, California to Mormon-hub Provo, Utah, his parents felt it wise for him to keep his sexual orientation under wraps. Only until he leaves the state to go to college, they concede. While Tanner doesn’t like it, he understands that in the conservative, judgmental environment that permeates Provo, it’s best for him to remain under the radar. He already has the unwavering support of his family and feels comfortable with himself, so what’s a few years of keeping things on the down-low?
This is before Tanner signs up to take a high-level honors writing class in which his grade will depend almost entirely on his ability to write a book during his final senior semester. Things will be tough enough – Tanner isn’t sure he can be truly creative – but then he meets Sebastian Brother, the class mentor. Sebastian had taken the class the previous year, and the book he produced had been so good it is actually being published. He’s returned to offer his insights to the class, and the minute Tanner lays eyes on Sebastian, his heart is taken.
The problem is that Sebastian is a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints, and if there is any absolute, unbreakable law of the church, it’s that its members cannot be anything but straight. Sure, they may be attracted to a member of the same sex, but they are not supposed to speak about it and they are never, ever allowed to act in any way on that attraction. Tanner’s mother left the LDS church after her own sister was shunned after coming out as homosexual.
As Tanner and Sebastian grow closer and it becomes clear that Sebastian shares Tanner’s feelings, things become very, very complicated. Not only must Tanner hide his own sexual orientation, he has to protect Sebastian’s secret as well. He struggles to understand Sebastian’s continued faith in a God and a church where it is impossible to truly be himself, and he questions Sebastian’s commitment to their relationship when by all indications they have no hope for any kind of future together. Too, he deals with the heart crushing pain of rejection when Sebastian refuses to acknowledge the truth about himself, holding out hope that if he simply prays hard enough, he will be able to suppress his homosexuality and live the life his family expects of him. Because to deviate from the Mormon path is to risk alienation from his family, his church and everything Sebastian has been raised to believe.
Through all of this, Tanner works on his book for his classes, growing ever more panicky as it becomes clear that the autobiographical work can never see the light of day for fear that it will expose Sebastian’s secret.
I could rave on for many paragraphs about Autoboyography, but I honestly think that you have to read it to fully appreciate it. The writing is excellent. The characters are all three-dimensional and relatable. The topic is timely and relevant. The love story is sweet and yet heartrending. Up until the very last pages, I wasn’t quite sure how things would work out.
As a character, Tanner is fantastic. He’s confident and secure in himself and yet completely vulnerable and sensitive. He makes bold moves and then worries that he’s made a mistake. The writing duo that is Christina Lauren does an amazing job capturing the uncertainty of falling in love but having no idea if the object of your affection returns your feeling. Here is great example of how perfectly she captures the sinking feeling that you’ve put yourself out there a bit too far:
Sebastian startles – and in the time it takes him to turn around, I beg myself to go back in time and never have done this. At the beginning of this school year, a freshman gave me an envelope and then actually ran off in the other direction. Bewildered, I opened it. Glitter poured out onto my shoes, and the letter inside was full of stickers and looping handwriting telling me she thought we might be soul mates. I didn’t even know her name until I read it at the bottom of the note: Paige, with a glittery heart sticker dotting the i. I don’t think I’d realized until that moment how young fourteen is.
But standing here, waiting for Sebastian to speak . . . I am Paige. I am an emotional infant. It suddenly feels creepy – or absolutely immature – to be here, bringing him food. What the hell am I doing?
The authors also convey completely what I can only imagine must be the claustrophobic effort of keeping a secret about who you are fundamentally as a person. On various occasions Tanner fears that either his own secret has been discovered or that he’s unwittingly outed Sebastian or both, and his gut-wrenching fear is palpable. Too, Lauren doesn’t offer any easy answers when it comes to Sebastian’s relationship to his church. He fully believes in the Mormon faith and teachings, and he honestly struggles to understand how something like loving Tanner can be considered wrong when it feels so right and natural.
As Sebastian deals with the realities that his homosexuality bring to the table, Tanner begins to appreciate the unwavering support and acceptance he’s received from his own parents. Your heart absolutely breaks when Sebastian takes small steps towards coming out of the closet only to be brutally crushed by his family’s reaction. As a person who wholly accepts that a person’s sexuality is not something that is chosen but rather is something that is a God-given biological imperative, I swung between anger at the LDS church for its rigid, unyielding bigotry, frustration and incredulity at Sebastian’s un-accepting parents, and deep sadness that this fictional situation is a reality for far too many kids.
There is absolutely nothing I didn’t love about Autoboyography. I hold it up as a shining example of the quality that Young Adult literature can achieve. I recommend it to anyone looking for a moving love story, a heartbreaking coming-of-age tale, or as the perfect window for anyone who doesn’t yet understand that love is love is love is love.