For a book that has amongst the worst Goodreads ratings of any 2020 YA novel, has gotten mediocre-to-scathing trade journal reviews (Kirkus called it “frustratingly long-winded and rambling”) and which has already caused a flash-in-the-pan Twitter controversy due to people finding its content offensive, my book is really generating a lot of excitement amongst readers!
It’s kind of astonishing. My debut novel, Enter Title Here, was a lead title for Disney. They put a fair amount of money and effort into publicizing it, and I thought, at the time, that the efforts had worked. The book seemed to be getting mentioned everywhere. But it was nothing like this! Harper has done okay by the book. I actually have no idea what they’ve done. Maybe they’ve done something? But the end result has been incredible. Basically ever since the cover got released last August, people have been so hyped for the novel.
This is not something I was expecting. Because of the trade reviews, I sort of thought it’d just fade away. Now I don’t know if that’s gonna happen. I think people are going to at least attempt to read it.
Unfortunately, when those people do read the book, a lot of them do not like it! I had a call recently with Harper’s marketing team, and I wanted to joke that we should stop sending out ARCs, because I’ve seen so many people online go from: “One of my most anticipated 2020 releases” to “this book was a huge disappointment.”
That happened with my first book too. My worst review on Goodreads came from an ARC I handed personally at a conference. Definitely was like, wut, why am I even doing this?
With my first book, I stopped reading the bad reviews, because they just made me feel terrible. With this book, I’ve read them all! And none of them have particularly bothered me. When it comes to any book, all bad reviews tend to mention only a handful of things. With my first book it was: a) unlikable characters; b) plot was all over the place; and c) the ending was too abrupt.
With this book, it’s: a) the book has no plot; b) the characters are unlikable; c) it’s not a romance; and d) its depiction of bisexuality is problematic. None of these criticisms bother me, because I don’t agree with any of them. Bad reviews are the worst when they come with an element of shame: you know the reviewer is right, and you wish you could’ve fixed the problem. Here, all of these issues are a result of intentional choices I made. I think my only regret with this book is that I should’ve made it more explicitly about transgender identity. I was just starting to come out as trans when the book was finishing its edits, and I decided not to mess with it. On an aesthetic level, the ambiguity is great! It’s not a book about finding yourself, it’s about losing your shame at not knowing yourself. On a marketing level, well…it’d probably do better as a trans book.
The other interesting thing about the book is some people LOVE it. They’re like, this book is me, I’ve finally been seen. That’s awesome. I expected that. There’s never been a depiction of queer sexuality, not just in YA but in any novel I can think of, that’s quite like that in We Are Totally Normal. Things I spent fifteen years learning have been put into a 70,000 word novel, and it makes me really happy that those lessons are useful to other people.
I didn’t write the book primarily to “help” kids. I don’t really write my books for kids. I just write books, and then I try to sell them as best I can. But I do think that the right kids will really love this book. And I’m hoping that somehow, amidst all the hype and hate, that those kids get ahold of it.
What’s so odd is that I’ve written exactly the right book at the right time. YA romantic comedies are blowing up. There’s a huge demand for m/m romances with people of color as leads. I’ve written exactly such a book. If I’d just done a paint-by-numbers portrait of bisexuality, people would’ve loved this book. But oh well. Instead it’s something different.
Some of my friends have been like, “The book isn’t being marketed well! It’s being marketed as a fluffy rom-com, and it’s not that!” To which I’ll say, “I participated fully in the marketing of this book! In fact I suggested marketing it as a fluffy rom-com! In my mind, it’s extremely fluffy. ” But, secondly, there’s no market anymore for issues-based LGBT YA. Whole market is taken over by romances. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my first book, it’s that there’s no percentage in releasing a book that people don’t think they want.
People want the thing that they think my book is, and that feel great! Most of them will be disappointed, but along the way, some people won’t be! And those people have already written some incredible, passionate, insightful reactions to the book. My book might be amongst the most detested 2020 YA releases, but for that very reason, it’s also amongst the most beloved.
Oh, by the way, I have a ton of ARCs of this book. So if you’re a book blogger who’s ever experienced any brand of questioning of their sexual or gender identity, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll see about maybe sending you a copy!