Thursday, June 6, 2019

Book Review: "Like A Love Story" by Abdi Nazemian

Wow, this book hit very close to home for me.

It's 1989 in New York City. Reza has just moved with his mother to live with his wealthy new stepfather and stepbrother, and attend his final year of high school. He knows he likes boys but all he sees in the media are images of people dying of AIDS, so he knows he has to keep his true self hidden.

Judy has always been her own person, an aspiring fashion designer with a bold sense of style. She spends all of her spare time with her best friend, Art, and her uncle, Stephen, who is dying of AIDS and is a prominent member of ACT UP. The one thing Judy wants to find is love, but she doubts she'll ever find anyone to love her for who she is.

Art is out and proud, a talented photographer who tries to put the constant bullying of his peers and the disdain of his parents behind him. He documents the work of the ACT UP activists through his photographs. Stephen is his role model, and he spends so much time learning from him. Art wants to find someone to love him, but love and sex in the midst of so much uncertainty around AIDS frightens him.

Reza and Judy start dating, and Art feels like a third wheel. But Art and Reza are drawn to each other. Reza tries desperately to fight his attraction to Art, because he doesn't want to disappoint his mother and he worries that acknowledging his sexuality will doom him to a death sentence of AIDS. Art wants Reza, but knows that Judy is happy with him, and he doesn't want to betray his one true friend.

"There may be no harder place to be queer than high school, a place of bullies and slurs, a place steeped in rituals 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."

Abdi Nazemian's incredibly moving, heartfelt Like A Love Story so accurately captures what it was like to come to terms with your sexuality during the early days of the AIDS crisis. You were tremendously fearful of even kissing someone, because you worked out elaborate circumstances in your head by which you could contract the disease. And if you got AIDS, who would love you? Your family would abandon you, the government would gouge you on the price of drugs, and you would be a pariah? So why not hide your true self instead, pretend to be "normal"?

This is a book about friendship, family, fear, acceptance, and finding love. It's a story about finding the courage to be yourself even in a world full of fear, and finding your people, who will love you and accept you no matter what. It's also a beautiful love letter of sorts to those who came before us, who loved fearlessly and joyfully, who finally lived the lives they dreamed of, without worrying what people thought of them, and it's a tribute to all of the people who died of AIDS and lost loved ones and lived in courage rather than fear.

I had been waiting for this book to be released and I jumped on it the day it was published. I loved every single minute of Like A Love Story. It's gorgeous and funny and sad and beautifully written, and all too many times I found myself nodding, recognizing myself in certain situations. Nazemian put every ounce of his heart into this story and it shows, and I'm definitely going to go back and read his earlier books, because I love the way he writes.

I love books that effectively capture a specific time and place, and Like A Love Story did that. It is an important, hopeful book that deserves every accolade it receives.

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