A review by Nalini Haynes
Fin kissed a boy who baited him. It was a trap. When Fin’s dad finds out, he moves the entire family to a new town almost overnight. Thus new boy in semi-rural town is trying to make new friends. The first teenagers he meets are part of the Queer pride club and their nemeses, the bigots who like bullying another gay guy, Rye.
What follows is a semi-predictable but adorable romance. Romance tends to follow a formula; if an author breaks that formula, readers tend to feel betrayed. That’s why Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy not a romance, and why many contemporary retellings have happy endings. So saying Fin & Rye & Fireflies is semi-predictable can be interpreted as a compliment. It’s a feel-good romance for traumatic times.
Conflict emerges from a love triangle and from Fin’s family’s bigotry. They send him to a “re-education” camp. Although foreshadowed, this was not something I expected from a young adult romance aimed at high school students.
Fin & Rye & Fireflies is multicultural as well as queer, with characters of various shades. Cook walks a line bordering on and wandering across Will Kostakis’s “butterflies” focus, where Kostakis says we need joyful books about people who are out living their lives. Fin and Rye and their friends are mostly out and accepting of themselves before the opening line – there is no internal confusion about their sexuality – but Fin’s family is a problem.
I have a problem with the bigots all reading like albino-types, they weren’t even jocks. Too often super-normative paleness is code for “Nazi” but, guys, Nazis murdered people with albinism. And look at what Doerr said.
So-called “re-education” camps, where queer people are bullied and indoctrinated in the hopes of forcing them to become “cis-het”, are real. Victims have been scarred for life, those who weren’t driven to suicide. I think some people have been literally killed by the program, which includes things like electrocution as “therapy”. Cook delves into this and yet, like Wendy Orr in Peeling the Onion, I have a sense that he toned down the trauma and rage for a young adult audience.
Fin & Rye & Fireflies is an adorable teenage romance between two boys in a group of queer friends. The end is a cheesy triumph, similar to other gay icons like Mamma Mia, Grease, and Priscilla Queen of the Desert. I can’t say more but I’d love to see this novel made into a movie.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Imprint: Ink Road; Distributor: New South Books
Format: paperback, 352 pages
Category: young adult, queer, romance