This short book review of Like a Love Story, by gay author Abdi Nazemian, is focused on one of the best LGBTQ+ books of historical fiction I’ve read in a short while—and that opinion is evidently shared by the Rainbow Round Table of the American Library Association, which selected Like a Love Story as a Stonewall Honor Book in Children’s and Young Adult Literature in 2020. Nazemian also wrote The Walk-In Closet (Lambda Literary Award for Debut Fiction, 2014) and The Chandler Legacies.
Like a Love Story features the interwoven stories of four characters as its driving force:
- Reza, an Iranian student who has recently moved to New York but cannot escape a variety of fears pounded into him by the attitudes and associated punishments of his homeland against LGBTQ+ people and cannot overlook American society’s association of being gay with death—during the early days of its AIDS epidemic;
- Art, or Bartholomew Emerson Grant VI, an out high-school student (in fact, the only one at his school) whose passion is documenting life in photographs;
- Stephen, a gay activist who strives to make life better for his friends, homosexuals in general, and future gays and lesbians by protesting—for improvements in AIDS research and expansion of associated drug trials—with the activist organization ACT UP and by passing on his understanding and interpretation of LGBTQ+ history and pop culture; and
- Judy, Art’s longtime best friend and Stephen’s niece who befriends then quickly becomes enamored with a culturally adjusting, still-comprehending, and sexually unsure Reza.
Of course, a broad range of supporting characters is also a part of the story line—parents and other family members, acquaintences and friends of Stephen’s, and the sights and sounds of New York City in the late 1980s. So are bits and pieces of then-current musical references, along with mentions of popular locations and other memorable signs of daily life, as well as dateless worries—for gay folk—and still-too-familiar situations, such as this one:
I’m such an idiot. He’s . . . worried about his family. I can only imagine how upset they’ll be, how much they’ll hate me too. They’ll blame me for corrupting their son, just like my parents blame Stephen. . . .
I don’t know what to say. If I tell him it’ll be okay, it would be a lie. I know firsthand how cold and unsupportive parents can be, how deeply their homophobia can cut. . . .
“I wanted to see you. To be with you. I didn’t think I would be on the news,” he says quietly. “I didn’t . . . I’m not ready to tell my mom.” . . .
He sobs, warm tears falling down his cold cheeks. “What if she won’t look at me anymore? What if my stepfather doesn’t want to stay married to her because of me?”
I take his hands in mine. I cup them and blow into them, warming him up. Do I see a small smile through his tears?
“I hate this,” I say, shaking my head. “I hate that a moment that should be joyful is filled with so much anguish.”
“I also feel joy,” he says through tears. . . .
“What was it like when you first told your parents?” he asks.
I want to lie, but I can’t. He deserves my honesty. “It was horrible, Reza. But I got through it. And you will too. I can promise you that.”
Nazemian’s words are well chosen, flow amazingly, and tend to be easily understood, which makes reading his story intimate and consuming—meaning you want more and more as the story’s dialog, situations, and imagery carry you forward. In addition to the gay storyline, alternate topics explore familial expectations; the progression of “made families,” the stages and experiences of grief, and understandings of sexual identity; as well as more common contemporary teen issues, including bullying, depression, suicide, and friendship.
Scattered throughout the book are passages from a series of cards—looped index cards that share important aspects of being gay in the late ’80s and provide clues for understanding the gay community of that time—a collection Stephen initially created to help Art deal with being gay. One card, in the L section, 75: LOVE, includes this passage:
Love might just happen to them, but for us, it’s not as easy. For us, it’s a fight. Maybe someday it won’t be. Maybe someday love will just be . . . love. . . . We love each other. We care for each other. We are brothers and sisters, mentors and students, and together we are limitless and whole. The most important four-letter word in our history will always be LOVE. That’s what we are fighting for. That’s who we are. Love is our legacy.
Another one, 63: High School, from the H section, reads
There may be no harder place to be queer than high school, a place of bullies and slurs, a place steped in rutuals of heterosexuality. Who’s dating who? Who kissed who? Who will be homecoming king and queen? Who will be your prom date? And you have to play along, because if you don’t your difference has a spotlight on it.
I tried to play along. . . . Still they called me a fairy. Still they beat me up. Still they left notes in my locker . . .
But high school ends. Remember that, even when it feels eternal. And when it ends, there are places to go. The Village, Provincetown, San Francisco. Pockets of cities and towns where boys take boys to dances and dance their nights away . . . Places where girls settle down with girls, places where boys can dress like girls on the street and get high-fives instead of fists against their gorgeous faces. Maybe someday high school will change. . . . But if it doesn’t, then just remember that high school ends. And that there is another life waiting for you, over the rainbow.
Editorially, Nazemian’s historical novel flowed so effortlessly and beautifully that I found myself overlooking the flaws I noticed in punctuation, font treatments, paragraph breaks, and arrangement. Whether it was his writing skill or, perhaps, because I found myself remembering situations and feelings that related to my own past and my own gradual coming-out evolution, I was not overly bothered by the editorial errors existent in this work.
Get yourself a copy!
Buy a copy of Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian for yourself through the-gay-editor’s online bookstore. I also invite you to take a look at some of this author’s other popular titles:
- The Walk-In Closet, Nazemian’s first book, was a Lambda Literary Award nominee in 2015 for best debut novel and a finalist in the Multicultural Fiction category at the 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
- The Authentics (2021) has a female lead and features the author’s Iranian background and coming to terms with family history and identity.
- The Chandler Legacies (2022), which I chose to read after finishing Like a Love Story, continues a semi-autobiographical look at the gay teen world of the 1980s but also dives more deeply into bullying and the caution necessary when forming new friendships.
- Only This Beautiful Moment (2023), a story about three generations—1939, 1978, 2019 (which features an out gay teen living in Los Angeles)—of young men in the same Iranian family and the trials faced by each in his own time.
And, read on . . .
the-gay-editor has compiled a number of other titles for your reading pleasure, and all are LGBTQ+ focused. Visit our special bookstore page to find links to book selections for adults and younger readers that include these recently added titles:
- Something About Her by Clementine Taylor
- Today Tonight Forever, by Madeline Kay Sneed
- And Then He Sang a Lullaby, by Ani Kayode
the-freelance-editor has also built a bookstore for writers, aspiring editors, and readers of all interests. Visit that bookstore page for an index to categories and links to those selections.
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originally posted November 18, 2023
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image information: Featured image used via Balzer+Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
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