Book Review: Always the Almost by Edward Underhill
A trans pianist makes a New Year’s resolution on a frozen Wisconsin night to win regionals and win back his ex, but a new boy complicates things in Edward Underhill’s heartfelt debut YA rom-dram, Always the Almost.
Sixteen-year-old trans boy Miles Jacobson has two New Year’s resolutions: 1) win back his ex-boyfriend (and star of the football team) Shane McIntyre, and 2) finally beat his slimy arch-nemesis at the Midwest’s biggest classical piano competition. But that’s not going to be so easy. For one thing, Shane broke up with Miles two weeks after Miles came out as trans, and now Shane’s stubbornly ignoring him, even when they literally bump into each other. Plus, Miles’ new, slightly terrifying piano teacher keeps telling him that he’s playing like he “doesn’t know who he is”—whatever that means.
Then Miles meets the new boy in town, Eric Mendez, a proudly queer cartoonist from Seattle who asks his pronouns, cares about art as much as he does—and makes his stomach flutter. Not what he needs to be focusing on right now. But after Eric and Miles pretend to date so they can score an invite to a couples-only Valentine’s party, the ruse turns real with a kiss, which is also definitely not in the plan. If only Miles could figure out why Eric likes him so much. After all, it’s not like he’s cool or confident or comfortable in his own skin. He’s not even good enough at piano to get his fellow competitors to respect him, especially now, as Miles. Nothing’s ever been as easy for him as for other people—other boys. He’s only ever been almost enough.
So why, when he’s with Eric, does it feel like the only person he’s ever really not been enough for…is himself?
It’s always a great sign when I tell myself I need to read a certain number of pages before doing other tasks on my list, then just keep reading past that number because I’m so enjoying the book. This is, obviously, one of those books.
Miles has only been going by “Miles” and he/him for a few weeks. But, the book isn’t really about that. I mean, of course it IS, because that’s his identity, and our identities are integral parts of our stories, but it’s really a story about a piano competition, and settling into yourself, and liking a new person, and being surprised by that fact. It’s about exes and silly high school parties and hanging out. Miles is trans, and figuring out exactly what that means to him, but this is definitely a story about the joy that comes from being your truest self and not really about the pain that can sometimes accompany that journey. It’s about being your truest self when I know mostly who that self is, but not all the nuances yet, not how, exactly, that self fits just right. Miles has great, supportive friends (who don’t even blink when he starts going by a new name and pronouns). His parents are good—his dad has some work to do on how he feels and why, but it’s not coming from a place of rejection or shame (fun fact: parents are complicated people too!), and his mom is loving and supportive and great, but with her own hang up (Miles is trans? Fine. But gay, too? Couldn’t he at least give it a try with a girl?). But they’re not crappy parents, I promise. And then there’s Eric, the interesting new kid who completely sees and accepts Miles, and is going through his own journey with identity. Miles and Eric have flaws and make mistakes. They’re not perfect, but no one is. They’re real. They screw up and make up and figure stuff out. Welcome to being a teenager, no matter your identity. Being messy is part of the deal with growing up.
This book has a real nice warmth to it, if that makes sense. I wanted to be friends with Miles and his friend group. I ended up burning through this super-readable book about love, identity, and trans joy and can’t wait to see what else Underhill does.
Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: St. Martin’s Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/14/2023
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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