Book Review

Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love by Jonathan Van Ness

Genre | Memoir
Page #s | 273
Publishing Date | September 2019

Who gave Jonathan Van Ness permission to be the radiant human he is today? No one, honey.

The truth is, it hasn’t always been gorgeous for this beacon of positivity and joy.

Before he stole our hearts as the grooming and self-care expert on Netflix’s hit show Queer Eye, Jonathan was growing up in a small Midwestern town that didn’t understand why he was so…over the top. From choreographed carpet figure skating routines to the unavoidable fact that he was Just. So. Gay., Jonathan was an easy target and endured years of judgement, ridicule and trauma—yet none of it crushed his uniquely effervescent spirit.

Over the Top uncovers the pain and passion it took to end up becoming the model of self-love and acceptance that Jonathan is today. In this revelatory, raw, and rambunctious memoir, Jonathan shares never-before-told secrets and reveals sides of himself that the public has never seen. JVN fans may think they know the man behind the stiletto heels, the crop tops, and the iconic sayings, but there’s much more to him than meets the Queer Eye.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll come away knowing that no matter how broken or lost you may be, you’re a Kelly Clarkson song, you’re strong, and you’ve got this. 


JVN is an inspiration, both as the bubbly hair stylist in Queer Eye and even more so in this honest retelling of the darker parts of his personal story. I highly recommend you listen to the audiobook to get the full JVN experience.

Growing up in Illinois, JVN has a classic “always knew I was different” origin story, but it is the honesty with which they describe their experiences that sets this memoir apart. Little Jackie sounds so adorable, working tirelessly to be as graceful and athletic as the gymnasts and ice skaters they looked up to. (Side note: the fabulous Russian aliases that are given to people to protect their identities is one of my favorite aspects of the book).

With a childhood experience of sexual assault followed by a less-than-supportive reaction from family, JVN got out of their hometown as soon as they could, and found themselves struggling through sex work, drug use, and sex addiction. I really admire their willingness to share this part of their story, and I love their acknowledgment that it’s all quite heavy. At an especially difficult part, they drop in a childhood essay of outrage against the Bill Clinton sex scandal. Hearing JVN’s delight at their own writing is just as good as the impassioned essay itself.

Through the support of their family, career opportunities, and some hard lessons learned from boyfriends, JVN ends their book where most of us know them – starting a new journey with Queer Eye, inspiring people with the love, community, and wisdom that drew viewers to them in the first place. It’s an excellent book, and I’m going to follow it up by checking out their tumbling passes on Instagram.

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

Fans of Queer Eye who want to get to know the hosts on a deeper level.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Check out our Queer Lil Library for more book recommendations and reviews!

2 comments on “Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love by Jonathan Van Ness

  1. Pingback: I Read 66 Queer Books in 2021! – Roar Cat Reads

  2. Pingback: Roar Cat Reads Book Suggestions for Our 2022 LGBTQ+ Summer Book Bingo – Roar Cat Reads

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