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This Is Kind of A So-So Love Story

Kheryn Callender’s debut novel, This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story, isn’t so much epic as it is filled with real, messy characters that frustrate this reviewer to no end.

This Is Kind of A So-So Love Story

BOOK REPORT for This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story by Kheryn Callender

Cover Story: Colorfully Cartoony
BFF Charm: Nay
Swoonworthy Scale: 2
Talky Talk: Lack of Connection
Bonus Factors: Diversity, Sex Positive
Relationship Status: Forgotten Childhood Friends

Cover Story: Colorfully Cartoony

I do love this cover. The cartoon people are representative of the characters (little Nathan even has a broken arm) and the fun colors and huge font make this book seem fun. Unfortunately I did not have a ton of fun with it (more on that), but kudos for making it eye-catching, cover designer. 

The Deal:

Nathan’s starting off his senior year girlfriend-less, thanks to his best friend who WAS his girlfriend over the summer before she cheated on him with another girl. They’re working towards getting back to their former friendship, but it doesn’t help that Nathan is still not over Flo in that way. She seems to sense this, and, I’m assuming, in an effort to assuage her guilt, she decides to find Nathan a new love. She doesn’t have to look very far, though, because Oliver shows back up in Nathan’s life after his parents’ divorce. Oliver, his childhood best friend whom he hasn’t spoken to in five long years after The Incident. Oliver, who he can barely look at but he wants to always be around. Is it possible that Nathan will get a second chance with the one who got away?

BFF Charm: Nay

You will not forget Nathan is a teenager. Some protagonists are wise beyond their years, and others are still very much in the middle of growing up; Nathan is solidly in the latter camp. I am fine with a younger main character, but Nathan consistently made the same mistakes over and over and didn’t seem to grow from them until the very end, and it made it very hard to sympathize with him.

He also had no accountability for himself. There are some characters that make the “wrong” moves and you can still understand why. I don’t know if it was just the way it was written or a conscious choice, but Nathan’s body seemed to constantly do things he had no control over. About to kiss someone even when you know they probably don’t want it or it’s not the right moment? Somehow your body is just moving towards them—whoops, oh well, no possible way to stop it in mid-action, amirite? If you’re cognizant enough to know you shouldn’t be doing it—DON’T DO IT!!! Maybe one time this happened I could overlook it, but this was a trend in Nathan’s behavior I could not get behind.

Most of his problems and drama were of his own making. He may be very relatable to many in that regard, but as a very low-key person myself, friendship-charm worthy Nathan was not. Ollie, on the other hand. I’ll give that kid a charm any time.

Swoonworthy Scale: 2

Unfortunately, this kind of wasn’t a very epic love story for me. For a good chunk of the novel Nathan treated Ollie horribly, and it got to the point where I almost didn’t want Ollie to forgive Nathan one more time. It bothered me that both Nathan and his friend—who was also interested in Ollie—didn’t seem to think Oliver’s long-distance relationship with his boyfriend was enough reason to not kiss him, or to simply inquire if he was interested in dating. Am I out of the loop, dating-wise? (I totally might because a) I am an old and b) I married the first guy I dated.) Because nowhere did Ollie mention he was in an open relationship, so I’m pretty sure “I’m dating someone” should be code for “Do not ask me out because I am spoken for."

Nathan is also hung up on Florence, which, in general, is fine. I get that you can be into more than one person, especially when it’s messy, with lingering feelings and trying to morph the relationship back to a friendship. But similar to my issues with Nathan/Ollie, I didn’t like how Florence treated Nathan. She wasn’t a great girlfriend or, to my eyes, a great friend.

Talky Talk: Lack of Connection

I really wanted to like this book, but in the end it was just okay. The big reveal about what went down between Nathan and Ollie when they were eleven felt anti-climatic in light of current information we had right from the start. Half the time I looked at people like Florence and Nathan and questioned why they were even friends. I can see them both looking back on their codependent relationship fifteen years down the line, when they can’t even remember the last time they even spoke, and realizing it wasn’t a very healthy situation. And what did Ollie see in Nathan except unfinished business?

There wasn’t enough plot or compelling issues to sustain the length of the novel, and I found myself pushing myself to get through the last third. I AM glad there are diverse authors like Callender getting out there as well as books out there with complex gay characters in starring roles that aren’t all about them coming to terms with their sexuality. I hope Callender keeps writing and keeps improving. I think an actual teen may really relate to some of this story, but it just wasn’t a book that resonated with me.

Bonus Factor: Diversity

What Callender DID do right was bring great diversity to their novel in such a natural way. Nothing felt forced, and characters were three dimensional and realistic (probably too damn realistic. We humans are messy-ass individuals.). I liked that Ollie, who is mostly deaf, wasn’t perfect at reading lips. Characters having to stop in the middle of emotional or stressful moments and type out what they meant on their phones (since they didn’t know sign language) felt so real. Sometimes life is awkward and annoying.

Bonus Factor: Sex Positive

One thing I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a YA novel (though I will freely admit I have not read all the YA fiction out there featuring gay protagonists) is such a detailed sex scene for a gay couple. I’m not saying it was that graphic, but there was an actual depiction of the act, frank discussion about sex between the characters, even mention of lube.

Relationship Status: Forgotten Childhood Friends

I think we work much better as childhood friends, Book. Looking back on memories with the rosy glow of tinted glasses versus the here and now of reality is where we should stay.

Literary Matchmaking:

  

• For a gay romance featuring two equally adorable main characters who work through their issues in more (mostly) positive ways, read What If It’s Us by Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli. 

• Claire Kann’s Let’s Talk About Love explores diversity and sexuality in a book that’s so great, it’s our February 2019 FYA Book Club pick! 

• If you’re looking for a contemporary with a big more magic in its bones, check out Katrina Leno’s The Summer of Salt

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Balzer + Bray. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story is available now.

Stephanie Johnston's photo About the Author: Stephanie is an avid reader who moonlights as a college Educational Advisor. Though she now calls Orlando home, she grew up all over the U.S. Aside from her obsession with YA books and book-related activities, Stephanie loves watching way too much television, reading organizational/DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.