Book Title: Looking For Group
Author: Rory Harrison
REVIEWED BY: CHELSEA
Genres: YA, Contemporary Fiction, GLBT
Date Read: 04/12/17
Pub Date: 04/25/17
Dylan doesn’t have a lot of experience with comfort. His room in the falling-down Village Estates can generously be categorized as “squalid,” and he sure as hell isn’t getting any love from his mother, who seemed to—no, definitely did—enjoy the perks that went along with being the parent of a “cancer kid.”
His only escape has been in the form of his favorite video game—World of Warcraft—and the one true friend who makes him feel understood, even if it is just online: Nuba. And now that Dylan is suddenly in remission, he wants to take Nuba on a real mission, one he never thought he’d live to set out on: a journey to a mysterious ship in the middle of the Salton Sea.
But Nuba—real-life name Arden—is fighting her own battles, ones that Dylan can’t always help her win. As they navigate their way west, they grapple with Nuba’s father (who refuses to recognize his daughter’s true gender), Dylan’s addiction, and the messy, complicated romance fighting so hard to blossom through the cracks of their battle-hardened hearts.
Where do I begin reviewing a book so vastly different than any I’ve read before? I was intrigued the moment The Literary Box announced this as their next curator’s novel, partly due to the gorgeous cover and partly due to the content. When contacted for a review, I was initially curious how this road trip would ensue and encompass all the important issues discussed in the blurb. Would this be another surface level, LGBT 101 info dump where it’s nicely written for diversity, but doesn’t delve deeper than a surface level plot? Does the reader feel like they’ve learned anything new, especially those inside a privileged bubble who may be completely uninformed to the plights of those outside their circle? I found out rather quickly, as I read this book in 2 sittings and less than 24 hours, that the story indeed was much deeper and more thorough than any YA book on the subject I’ve seen yet. As someone who is typically a fantasy reader, it was refreshing to branch out into the contemporary realm and ride alongside this makeshift couple as they learn some important life lessons.
While difficult to explain, there was simultaneously a heavy yet boisterous feel to this story; at times my heart sank with hurt for these two characters who have faced so many challenges in their short lives, and at others there was a great deal of laughter and joy that I felt privy to in their midst. I’d like to leave the plot untouched for now, as this is one best to read going in blind, but if you read the blurb you realize this is a journey that deals with issues such as cancer, gender identity, and how society as a whole reacts when we experience people who are different from ourselves. It did take me about 40 pages to really get sucked in, as there is a good deal of setting up Dylan’s back story and explaining how the game World of Warcraft is played. As a non-gamer myself who is married to a gamer, it was nice getting filled in on what my husband partakes in as a hobby, even if some of it did still go over my head. Once Dylan meets up with Arden, I was completely captivated. It was mesmerizing following the budding relationship of two non-traditional love interests; the message of love abiding in all forms really hit home here.
I’m sure a great deal of you are riding on the boat of curiosity wondering “how much detail does this book go into?” Here’s where I struggle to decide on age appropriateness: I’m an old school mom in the sense that I’m overly cautious about the level of mature content I offer my kids to read. Having a 4 year old who is now reading chapter books, and already being majorly behind socially and emotionally (likely due to her ASD), I’m already having to hardcore screen the books she reads. That being said, this is marketed to a target audience of 14+; there was one tiny scene that made me feel it might be more for the 16+ crowd. This had nothing to do with it being a non-traditional relationship or the fact that I think YA shouldn’t be offered this level of content-far from it! I think this book is a trailblazer in the LGBT genres, especially for the younger crowd. So I flip flop between being overly cautious, but also noting that kids are experiencing more mature content at an earlier age, and do we try to include this type of content earlier to give them a healthier, overall picture? I don’t have the answer, but I think just like every parent is different, so is every child, and maybe books can come on a case by case basis.
There were little details included that made an almost fantastical book feel grounded. EX: Along the trip, Arden’s 5 o’clock shadow starts showing. These small moments added up to bringing Arden alive and off the page; so many times I’ve seen transgender characters just painted surface level and included in a narrative simply to say Look! Diversity! The ending was a bit tricky; some will love it while others despise it. I fell somewhere in the middle; while I wish there had been a little more in a sense, I appreciate that Harrison left things emotionally raw and open. We all know I despise a picture perfect ending. I feel like I could go on for days, but know this: if you pick this one up, go into it for the journey. There really is very little plot and action; Looking For Group is more characterization through dialogue and internal monologues. While it was deeply moving, it consistently maintained a whimsical feel that kept the book from being too heavy. I laughed, I *internally* cried; it was fabulous. Highly recommended for those looking to deepen their understanding of the transgender community; this is a book that assumes you are treating Arden as female and doesn’t waste time with the Intro to Transgender etiquette. I’m really interested to see what the young crowd makes of this and I do believe we’ll be seeing more from Rory Harrison for years to come.
*Many thanks to The Literary Box for providing my copy for review; it was a pleasure to share my honest thoughts here on the blog.