Cover of We are Totally Normal by Naomi Kanakia. Two boys, one Indian and one Asian, look at each other lovingly

About the Book

Title: We Are Totally Normal
Published: 2020

Cover Story: Perfect
Drinking Buddy: No
MPAA Rating: R (graphic sex, language, alcohol use)
Talky Talk: Hook Up
Bonus Factors: LGBTQ in the 20s
Bromance Status: Acquaintance

Cover Story: Perfect

Yep. We’ve got the two protagonists, Indian-American Nandan and Asian-American Dave, drawn with just enough detail that we can picture them, but shadowy enough that our minds can fill in the blanks. No stock photos here, just our two heroes in a delightfully awkward pose.

The Deal:

High school junior Nandad is on the outs with his ex, Avani. Realizing their relationship wasn’t great, he kind of rebounds into the arms of his close friend Dave. While initially it’s a matter of a drunken, this-never-happened encounter, both boys decide to give the relationship a go. But is this what Nandad truly wants? Dave is thoughtful, funny, intelligent, and nerdishly sexy. But Nandan is not entirely sure if he’s really gay or if he’s just on the rebound from Avani. And once one comes out of the closet, it’s hard to go back in.

Drinking Buddy: No

Two pints of beer cheersing with a "Denied" stamp over them

Sorry, I just plain did not care for Nandad. He constantly waffles over whether he likes Dave, just likes him as a friend, or despises his very touch. Meanwhile, Dave is attempting to play it cool, while it’s obvious he’s completely in love with Nandad. You wouldn’t like a guy who strings along a girl while deciding if he’s really that into her, and making Nandad questioning doesn’t make him any more likeable. Pass.

MPAA Rating: R (graphic sex, language, alcohol use)

So when your main romantic interests get together, we all like a little passion, a little fire. But we also like romance and that awkward ‘dare I make a move?’ feeling. Especially when these are two friends, crossing the line to more, and neither of them has been with a man before.

Nope. One minute, Nandad and Dave are drinking, the next we’re getting a graphic description of oral sex. I know there’s nothing wrong with sex in YA, but I want it balanced with tenderness. For the first half of the book, Nandan only seems to think of Dave when he’s jerking off, which soured me on the whole relationship.

Talky Talk: Hook Up

If the author used the term ‘hooked up’ fewer than thirty times in this book, I’m sadly mistaken. Also ‘gossip’ and ‘caper’ (though someone calls Nandad out on that last one).

A lot of this book takes place in Nandan’s head, where he debates if he’s actually gay or if he’s with Dave for another reason. But his voice is whiny. It’s like listening to that one friend who wants to only talk about his romantic problems, without bothering to listen to you in return. Meanwhile, this book had a large cast of characters, most of whom just kind of blended into one indistinct mass.

Bonus Factor: LGBTQ in the 20s

Pride flag being waved in a parade

So why is Nandan with Dave? Has he always been gay or bisexual, and is only now admitting it? Or is he trying to make Avani jealous? He had erectile dysfunction when he was with her; this would be an easy way to excuse that. Or–and he admits this–is it because that in today’s culture, being gay can be considered hip and cool?

He may be on to something. Living in California, he and Dave would hardly be the only same-sex couple around. His male friends greet their relationship with a shrug. Nandan and Avani were just another couple. Nandan and Dave are kind of exotic. And even if it doesn’t work out with Dave, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other advantages. Nandan doesn’t have a date? Well, you know how small the gay dating pool is. Girls start hanging out with him. Gay guys start flirting with him. There are certainly perks to this lifestyle.

Nandad in definitely a product of the 2020s, almost bordering on the naive. He actually says that gay men would come out of the closet at the risk of their lives, ‘back in the Nineteenth Century.’ Yes, Nandan. Gay bashing ended when William McKinley was president.

We live in a world of unprecedented LGBTQ acceptance. In some situations, being gay might even be considered an advantage. But Nandan kind of lives in a bubble, which is both sad and comical at the same time.

Bromance Status: Acquaintance

I didn’t hate you, but I wouldn’t exactly go out of my way to hang out.

Literary Matchmaking

The Great American Whatever

The Great American Whatever, by Tim Federle, is about a newly out guy trying to navigate the world of gay dating.

True Letters From a Fictional Life

As is Kenneth Logan’s True Letters from a Fictional Life.

Openly Straight

A gay character finds just a little too much acceptance in Bill Konigsberg’s Openly Straight.

FTC Full Disclosure: I got a free copy of this book from the publisher, but no money or beer. I read it months before it came out so I could booktalk it at the librarians’ convention, which was postponed.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.