I WISH YOU ALL THE BEST by debut author Mason Deaver is a contemporary coming of age that’s out from Scholastic/Push in May 2019. *I was extremely lucky to snag an ARC from an event—any views and opinions expressed here are my own.*
Ben De Backer is a nonbinary teen who’s read all the articles and seen all the YouTube videos and FINALLY feels ready to take the important step of telling their parents who they really are. It… doesn’t go well. Forced to leave their house in the middle of the night, Ben calls the only person they can think of: their big sister Hannah, who they haven’t spoken to in almost ten years after she left home with nothing more than a note. (At least the apology was handwritten?)
Partly inspired by her love for her sib and partly inspired by her guilt for leaving them in an unhappy home, alone, with… those people… Hannah and her husband Tom take Benji in and flood them with support. Within a day, Benji is moved into their small suburban home and enrolled in a new school. As a part of their deal with Tom and Hannah, Ben also agrees to see a therapist to help them process everything that’s happened. Ben, reluctantly, agrees.
But after what happened with their parents, Ben isn’t sure they’re ready to tell people at their new school who they are. With Hannah’s and Tom’s puzzled-but-unwavering support, Ben enrolls as a boy and prepares to spend the rest of their senior year being misunderstood and misgendered rather than expose themselves to further pain. Then they meet Nathan.
Nathan is a good student—the kind who’s on the student council and seemingly involved with all the important committees. He’s also cute and nice—and he seems to have made it his personal quest to befriend Benji. At first, Ben is less than receptive to getting close enough to someone at their new school. They’ve never had a lot of luck in the friends department, and because they don’t feel able to be themselves, it all feels kind of pointless. But Nathan? Not a quitter.
As Benji’s friendship with Nathan grows and their social circle widens to include not just Nathan, but Nathan’s friends, too, Benji still feels like they’re holding their breath, waiting for everything to go wrong. Despite regular visits to their therapist—a woman who specializes in working with LGBTIQA+ teens as well as disorders like depression and anxiety, and really has been helping them—they can’t help feeling like it’s all about to fall apart. Even the support and love of their internet friend and mentor Miriam can’t quell this feeling.
Then Ben gets an email from their parents. After kicking them out of the house three months ago, they’re seeking to reconnect…and Ben finds themself with a series of decisions to make.
Benji’s experience is definitely outside of what most will consider “the norm.” And frankly, if you don’t love them for it, you’re a monster. (I said it and I’m not taking it back.) For some, this book will be a tough read, not because of the writing style—which is rich in sensory description and yet light-handed enough to be practically invisible—but because of the often heartrending experiences the protagonist is forced to face, and the sometimes awful outcomes. This isn’t a reason not to read it. In fact, it’s the reason I think everybody SHOULD read it. Ultimately, the message here is hope.
One the most significant standout themes for me is the devastation that can occur when our natural support systems fail us… and the remarkable way that newer, stronger systems can rise up from seemingly nowhere to take their place…if you’re open to it. Benji’s story shows that, while it’s not easy, it’s possible. And after reading this book, no one should walk away feeling like they don’t matter or don’t deserve the very best.
Another valuable takeaway is that it’s OK—and probably inevitable—to get things wrong about each other, as long as you’re speaking from a place of honesty, openness, and respect. Despite doing a lot of research and asking questions, Hannah and Tom frequently get things wrong. Benji’s patience with them is vast but it isn’t perfect—nor does it need to be. Even Ben is not immune—they get some things wrong about Hannah, too. And while Nathan is upfront in that he’s probably going to make some mistakes, each one offers a chance at the sort of open dialogue that brings those willing to engage closer together instead of further apart. I don’t necessarily believe that books are here to teach us lessons, but if you walk away from this one without some sense of this, then, well, my friend, I think you’ve missed it.
If you’re looking for a sweet-but-somewhat-heavy YA contemp featuring a likeable, relatable protagonist, I WISH YOU ALL THE BEST will definitely scratch that itch and you should buy this book.
If you want to learn more about one person’s fictional nonbinary experience—or if you’re looking to explore or further understand life as a nonbinary teen—or if you’re looking to support a nonbinary #ownvoices author—you should buy this book.
If you’re sensitive to topics including mental health, anxiety, and depression, please read my content warning below BEFORE you buy the book.
I don’t usually give out content warnings, but this one took me a little by surprise, so without revealing anything integral to the plot I will say that themes of anxiety, depression, and panic are BIG in this book. Not only are they big, they’re immersive. Deaver does an excellent (too excellent!) job of taking readers through instances of panic and anxiety from Ben’s perspective.
Through Deaver’s heightened use of sensory description, readers will feel what Ben’s feeling, and for those who are sensitive to panic/anxiety, it could be overwhelming… maybe more so if you aren’t expecting it. I had to put the book down for a few days after the first big panic attack because I found myself that affected. Of course, then I picked it up again and was immediately sucked back into Benji’s story, their struggle with identity, relationships, and mental health, because it was JUST. THAT. COMPELLING.