Desert Isle Keeper
This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story
Kheryn Callender’s funny, flawed, authentic story of young love and broken arms, This is Kind of an Epic Love Story focuses on the messy complexities of romance, friend-love and parental love in all of its frustrating, confusing forms.
Seattle-raised sixteen-year-old high school junior Nathan Bird, stuck mending a broken arm in the middle of the school year, is trying to navigate the world around him with the help of his best friend and ex-girlfriend Florence, her runaway cat and her hump-happy black dachshund named Tobey Maguire. An aspiring filmmaker who’s afraid he has no real talent and who’s realistic about happy endings, Nate’s been avoiding anything approaching romance since Flo cheated on him with her current girlfriend, Lydia – a relationship that’s currently on the rocks. Out of guilt, at least in part, for the end romantic relationship, Flo decides it’s her mission to help Nate lose his virginity before he turns seventeen, to his great embarrassment.
Flo’s mission might come to fruition, for Nate is hiding a slowly developing crush on Oliver James Hernandez, a budding photographer and his former childhood best friend. Nate and Ollie were once extremely close but have lost touch due to an embarrassing incident that neither of them wishes to address that happened just before Ollie moved away. Now Ollie’s back in the neighborhood with his mom, his folks divorced and his dad jockeying for custody, and his cuteness is hard for Nate to ignore. Flo and Nate’s other friends Gideon and Ash (two gamers whose arguments conceal a mutual romantic attraction) try to gently nudge Nate toward Ollie, involving him in the film club they all run together. But things are so messy between the two of them that as they get closer, Flo, whose own relationship has hit a rough patch, grows jealous and clingy.
While Nate tries to figure out how he feels about Ollie, he also has to struggle for independence from his mother. Nate’s mom is protective and depressed, concerned about him getting good grades, giving him a curfew that he feels is too restrictive, confused by his break-up with Flo and watching over him and his older sister Rebecca with concern. He knows it’s because she’s still reacting to the sudden and accidental death of his father several years earlier, which is also still a major scar for him. When Nate has the opportunity to enter a screenplay contest that will allow him to attend a film program in New York for the summer – at the same place Ollie will be taking photography classes – he worries that his mom will never let him go. Will he break his writer’s block, convince his mother to give him some space, and work things out with Ollie and Flo? And is he really ready to lose his virginity?
This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story wraps itself around the reader like a warm, comfortable blanket. Sweet without being saccharine, down to earth without feeling too heavy, wonderfully diverse and respectful of the character’s diversity (our leads are queer PoCs and Ollie is hard of hearing thanks to a bout of meningitis) and the spectrum feeling of mourning, it does great service to its characters.
Nate is a great protagonist; insecure and fearful, he’s also goofy and vulnerable, and every one of his friends has their flaws and their good points. I liked Ollie best, with his artistic creativity and calm intelligence, but firecracker Flo and insecure Ash are also treats. The northern setting and Seattle neighborhoods where the story takes place are fairly well outlined as well. Nate’s romance with Ollie is at turns awkward, sweet and frayed, as is his connection to Flo, which is complicated by their attempts at trying to be actually friendly with one another after an arduous break-up.
The novel’s meditations on grief are nearly perfect; Nate and Rebecca’s feelings about their dad’s death contrast with the intense, fearful, anxious mourning their mother has plunged herself into, and how they come to understand each other makes that aspect of the novel sing.
There are a minimal amount of flaws in the book overall. There’s a spot of unnecessary virgin shaming (Flo says “no one wants to be one”, which Nate and the book happily agrees with for a while), which is perhaps not the best message for an audience who will likely be struggling with defining who they are as a person, even if it does feel properly within the mindset of a teenager struggling to form a life of their own. Otherwise, though, I can’t conjure any more criticisms; it’s an excellent experience. Parents are cautioned to note that there is explicit sexual activity and some masturbation that takes place, both euphemistically and on-page during the story.
This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story is a beautiful tale, and one that’s good for the heart and soul.