A Triumphant Celebration of Diversity and Self-Discovery
In celebration of the fact that The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis was finally released in Australia and New Zealand yesterday, I wanted to post my review as quickly as possible. Happy reading!
The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis would have to have been one of my most anticipated book releases of 2018. I was on twitter when I saw Jennifer Niven talking about a new debut release for author Angelo Surmelis, with a link showing the blurb and the cover design. I read the blurb and immediately took a screenshot because I knew that this book was going to be a groundbreaking novel. I was completely and utterly correct.
The Dangerous Art of Blending In is an #OwnVoice young adult novel, that is ultimately about triumph, self-discovery and courage. It follows the main character, Evan Panos, a seventeen-year-old boy from Greek immigrant parents, whose upbringing has been tumultuous and fundamentally, psychological and emotionally terrifying. Evan’s mother, Voula Panos, has systematically abused her son from a young age, as his ‘disobedience’ is proof of his evil. Evan’s father, Elias Panos, has maintained his life and his wife’s happiness by continuing in his bystander approach. Evan is trying so hard to be the son that is loved unconditionally by his mother, to be a good Greek boy, a good Christian son, but he is gay and in the eyes of his mother and his church, he is wrong.
I loved Evan. His character was incredibly written and so raw that, at times, was quite emotionally overwhelming. First and foremost, I would very easily state that Evan is one of the most courageous and strongest characters in YA fiction today. His strength comes from his heart; he is irrevocably a boy attempting to find his own truth and in doing so, is able to triumph against homophobia and his mother’s diabolism. Evan knows that he much prefers the male sex, and his frustration at his mother’s matchmaking is completely understandable. He finds himself looking at his best friend Henry, and his frustration in living a life of unrequited love and longing. Though this is a romance novel, I really hope readers and the YA community alike, do not underestimate its worth. The Dangerous Art of Blending In is more than just a romance novel; it depicts a boy straddling two different worlds, with secrets upon secrets. His abuse, his homosexuality, his love and longing for his best friend, his need to get out from under his mother’s thumb, his frustration at his Dad’s lack of action; all coalesce until Evan begins choosing his own destiny, and that is ultimately the greatest love story – finding one’s love for oneself and conquering life. Also, Evan’s favourite dish was Pastitsio, which is also my absolute favourite; so we had a spiritual connection.
I want to briefly discuss Voula Panos as a character. She scared me. Voula was completely terrifying and honestly absolutely horrible. She was how I perceive absolute evil. Her ability to terrify me was rooted in how human she was. I am so used to reading fantasy YA where the evil villain is so obvious in their unnatural nature (i.e. an evil fairy, an evil witch, an evil demon etc.) but Voula was a mother, a woman who had a terrible upbringing herself but ultimately became a monster. She didn’t have the strength and personal conviction, nor the courage, to choose to be a different person, to ensure that her children would never ever be a victim of terror and abuse. Voula can be anyone, and that is terrifying. I personally did see elements of my yiayia (grandmother) in Voula; not so much the physical abuse, but the emotional manipulation, the trauma and its impact on my mother, that I still see till this day.
I am so incredibly proud of this book, of the emotional vulnerability the author, Angelo Surmelis, must have felt to put Evan and his story on paper. It is a beautifully poignant novel, one that celebrates diversity and compels in finding empathy grounded in love. It is a true coming-of-age novel that needs to be read by all. It is a triumphant YA debut and has become one of my all-time favourite novels. Thus, I give The Dangerous Art of Blending In 5 out of 5 stars.
Till next time! Happy reading!