I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life when I was a teenager (which is a sentence I can write now that I am TWENTY YEARS OLD?????). I tried a lot of things at school: politics, journalism, theater — and none of it had that spark that you hear about, that moment when you know, “Hey, this is what I want to do.”
It wasn’t until I was 16 that I learned about the field of linguistics, and it wasn’t until I was 18 that I started to pursue writing YA fiction. And now I’m doing both of those things (and I’m also writing these silly book reviews). I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a metaphorical rug pulled from under my feet.
But that’s exactly what happens to the protagonist of Tobias Madden’s book “Anything but Fine.” Luca is a ballet dancer and has been for much of his life, and he knows exactly what he wants to do: audition for the Australian Ballet School and become a professional dancer. And then he falls down a flight of stairs, injuring his foot, and suddenly, his dreams are dead.
So Luca loses his ballet scholarship at his private school and has to transfer to public school, and he pretty much immediately falls in love with Jordan, the most popular boy at school, who is certainly, definitely, a hundred percent heterosexual. At the same time, he befriends an absolute Wendy of a girl, who shows him the ropes at his new school. But this whole time, Luca’s wondering: who is he without dancing?
What an adorable book. It’s been a minute since I read a YA coming of age queer romance, and it’s nice to return to my comfort zone. (To be fair, I’ve read many books recently that fit two or three of those four categories. Just not all of them at once.)
“Anything but Fine” hits all the tropes I’ve grown to expect in this genre — some sort of life-altering event has the main character questioning their self-concept, and then they also fall in love, and everything is so overwhelming but also entirely normal. I love how Madden does it here, the way he encapsulates all of Luca’s huge emotions over seemingly mundane things, because that really is what it’s like to be a queer teen.
Jordan’s character is another example of a trope well done. I’ve seen the dubiously straight jock love interest plenty of times — Nick from “Heartstopper,” Bram from “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” and Jack from “Check, Please,” just to name a few — and it’s always a pleasure watching the main character slowly but surely realize that, oh my god, the love interest likes them back, can you believe it?
In short: all my love for this very fun, very Australian book. Now, please excuse me while I have a crisis over being 20 years old and still reading YA books.
“Anything but Fine” comes out on March 15, 2022. I received a copy from the publisher, Page Street Kids, in exchange for an honest review.