When Ben De Backer comes out to their parents as nonbinary, they’re thrown out of their house and forced to move in with their estranged older sister, Hannah, and her husband, Thomas, whom Ben has never even met. Struggling with an anxiety disorder compounded by their parents’ rejection, they come out only to Hannah, Thomas, and their therapist and try to keep a low profile in a new school.
But Ben’s attempts to survive the last half of senior year unnoticed are thwarted when Nathan Allan, a funny and charismatic student, decides to take Ben under his wing. As Ben and Nathan’s friendship grows, their feelings for each other begin to change, and what started as a disastrous turn of events looks like it might just be a chance to start a happier new life.
At turns heartbreaking and joyous, I Wish You All the Best is both a celebration of life, friendship, and love, and a shining example of hope in the face of adversity.
A coming of age coming out novel that handles the fear of being fully yourself with patience. It stresses the importance of finding safe people to be your foundation so that you can better survive the spaces and people who are less safe (or actively dangerous).
Ben begins the story at their lowest moment, having just been kicked out of their house after telling their parents that they are nonbinary. I can tell I am old because I just wanted to cuddle them and make everything okay for this tiny precious child. In a nice twist of the “found family” story, Ben finds a family…in their estranged older sister. It was a joy to see the two of them reconnecting and building a new relationship while addressing the pain of their initial separation (which had more to do with their parents than each other).
Ben finds family in other ways too, of course. I loved the role of the Internet in Ben’s life. It is through Internet role models and community that Ben is able to label themselves nonbinary, and the friends they make online are a support throughout the book. Queer folx often find community online, so this felt very true. But I did like that they eventually joined an in-person support group as well.
As for those parents…ugh. They are awful in very realistic ways. The dad is just pure bigotry with an utter lack of desire to understand his child. The scene where he condescendingly says, “Now who’s misgendering someone?” to Ben just reeked of smug superiority. It is infuriating and heartbreaking. The mom is more subtly bigoted. She wants to love her child, but under terms that she understands. I do feel a bit sympathetic toward her; I wonder what her reaction might have been if she were married to someone different.
The romance in this book is adorable, and the chemistry between Ben and Nathan is SO CUTE. However, I have a gripe. No matter how anxious and insecure Ben is, could they REALLY doubt Nathan’s feelings toward them? Nathan overtly flirts with Ben from day one, holding their hand, repeatedly saying they are handsome and cute. I mean, come on!! Teenage boys do not do that sort of thing with their friends. Still…so cute.
The last thing I’ll note is that I really liked that the book allowed space for people close to Ben to mess up. Sometimes people slipped and called them something masculine. Ben’s inner monologue let’s us know that they are hurt by this, but they model healthy relationships by pointing out instances of misgendering and allowing people to apologize and learn. I think these depictions can help those of us who identify as cisgender to enter into conversations and relationships with nonbinary folx with a little more confidence.
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