Living with the memories you’ve got – and the ones you’ll never make – is going to hurt, but pain is the privilege of the living (p. 197). “
I should warn you, you will shed a waterfall of tears reading this book. FYI.
If I Tell You by Alicia Tuckerman was one of my most anticipated books of 2018. I found out about this novel by complete accident on Twitter one day, and I remember clicking a link to read the blurb and I was jumping up and down. I was just so happy that YA authors and the community are now welcoming queer YA so much more than ever before. It needs to be celebrated, it needs to be read, we need to welcome and accept diversity in all of its wonderful forms.
Alexandra Summers is stuck.
She is stuck in Two Creeks, a too small Australian town where everyone knows everyone and everyone knows everything. Gossip is the town’s currency and Alex does not want to add fuel to the fire by becoming the first openly gay high schooler in the entire town. As a result, she is stuck inside her comfortable little closet until it was blasted open by Pheonix Stone. Alex was immediately enraptured by Pheonix, who had quickly and involuntarily taken on the mantle of being the first lesbian in Two Creeks. Alex felt as though she was being pulled into two different and completely contrasting directions; Pheonix was everything Alex had ever dreamed of, but the knowledge that her sexuality would fundamentally be met with hatred, not only from the town but from her own family, was the core of Alex’s inability to be truly herself. What follows is a truly inspiring and emotional romance between Alex and Pheonix; but also a story of friendship, the emotional and mental impact of homophobia, self-realisation and the multi-faceted nature of love.
Character discussion and analysis
Alexandra Summers is definitely a realistic character. She goes through emotional highs and lows, but fundamentally never doubts who she is. I would say at least half of the book had Alex feeling quite indecisive and insecure about the prospect of coming out to her family, and thus, to the entire town; and although at times, this became quite frustrating to read as a reader, you can only imagine how it would actually feel to be ‘Alex’ in this situation – her entire life is hanging in the balance.
How many Alex’s have there been? Teenagers and adolescents and young adults and adults, should not have to agonise for years to decide whether they should or should not be who they are. That concept is emphatically underlined within this novel. Through Alex and her interaction with her family, her friends and her town – she eventually makes it impossible for others to understand that she is human and she is gay. Her heterosexual friends didn’t need to ‘come out’, it was just assumed that they were attracted to the opposite sex because society has ingrained within all of us that heterosexuality is ‘normal’. What is normal? Alex and Phoenix turn Two Creeks on its side, and I felt such pride when reading about their strength and courage.
Phoenix Stone was an intriguing character. From the onset, the reader is aware that Phoenix is more than what she seems. Her mystique adds to her sensuality as a character and provides more depth to what is a romantic lead character. I say that because many a time there is romance leads especially in YA, who are just there to be romantic and provide no sort of emotional depth to the overall storyline, nor do they have a personality. However, in this case, I felt more for Phoenix than I did Alex, that is how wonderfully written Phoenix was. Her entire family was just on a different level of unique that I would love to read more about their story, especially Phoenix’s brother, Van. He has so much pain and is so sensitive to the world around him, that reading his story would be an honour.
I will not go into spoiler territory because then you have no reason to read the book, but I will say that you will intensely dislike Alex’s mother and you will want to slap Alex’s father into action to be on his daughter’s side (he eventually gets there, but still). I would also describe If I Tell You as an immersive experience. What I mean by that is, you walk in the shoes of a girl struggling to be herself, in a town that struggles with the difference in any form. Thus, the homophobia is rampant and completely and utterly disgusting. I feel as though this representation needs to occur in a YA novel especially, as young adults and teenagers need to understand that words have such an incredible power to hurt and bring such immense pain to others.
If I Tell You is such an important YA novel, and I am so proud to have been witness to its publication. However, I do have one little criticism and that is the pacing of the novel. I felt as though the first half of the novel was very slow and frustrating in the sense, that Alex became more of a character who whined and complained but never did anything about it. However, the last half of the novel is where the narrative seemed to find its climax and everything seemed to occur within a hundred pages. I would have enjoyed the story a lot more if the second half of the novel was extended and given more time to watch the relationship between Alex and Phoenix blossom and watch Alex become an independent, strong and courageous gay woman.
In saying that though, I do understand that the build-up to the finale is a very significant journey and it’s completely and utterly my own personal opinion, but I am quite an impatient person. As a result, I give the wonderfully poignant YA novel, If I Tell You by Alicia Tuckerman 4 out of 5 stars.
Until next time! Happy reading!
NOTE: I received a free copy thanks to NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.