Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales

Reviewed by Rod McLary

This rather quirky title gives a good idea of what is within the book.  It is a re-imagining of the well-known film Grease but with a LGBT twist.

Ollie, when on holidays with his family at a lake in North Carolina, meets and falls in love with Will.  Ollie and Will are both seventeen-year-old boys and, while Ollie is ‘out’, Will is not.  Due to family circumstances, Ollie’s parents decide that the family will stay in North Carolina for a year or so and Ollie will attend the local high school Collinswood High.  Will lives in the area of the lake and he attends Collinswood High.

As the reader can readily imagine, the scene is now set for an embarrassing meeting.  Neither knows the other is at the school where Will is the class clown, a basketball jock and has not long broken up with his girlfriend.  The account of Will’s and Ollie’s first meeting in the hall is beautifully written.  Ollie catches a glimpse of Will:

The world fell silent.
It was him.
Will.
Will Will.
My Will.

We stared at each other in dumb shock.  It was hard to tell which of us was the deer, and which was the headlight. [33]

Ollie is soon accepted by a small group of girls and spends his lunch hours with them.  However, one of Will’s friends is keen on one of the girls so Will and his friends make any excuse to come to the girls’ table.  This of course throws Will and Ollie together with Will desperate that – on one hand – he is not ‘outed’ and – on the other – he re-connects with Ollie.  But as Shakespeare said ‘The course of love never did run smooth.  Love is a devil’ and the boys are faced with more challenges than they could imagine in trying to re-connect with each other. 

There is a telling vignette about what Will faces if he openly acknowledges his feelings for Ollie.  At a family Thanksgiving dinner at Will’s parents’ house, one of his uncles says while watching three young children [one of whom is Will’s younger brother Kane] dancing as cheer leaders:

Kane’s having more fun than the girls are.  Maybe he should start spending more time with his brother?  On the right side of the court?’ [142]. 

The implication being that boys play the game and the girls cheer them on.  Ollie has been ‘out’ since he was 14 and he acknowledges how difficult it was to tell his parents.  Fortunately, they are comfortable with his sexuality.  So, even in the twenty-first century, there is still a fear of being outed and a genuine concern about how parents may respond to the knowledge their child is gay.  Will worries in particular about how his friends would respond if they even see a hint of the relationship between him and Ollie.

These challenges allow the author to explore the agony of adolescent relationships and the fluidity of gender and sexual attraction.  It is all done in a humorous and non-confronting way and no one seems to progress too far along the sexual activity continuum.  There are hints that Will and Ollie may have moved beyond kissing but perhaps that is unimportant really. 

The book is clearly pitched at the younger teenagers who perhaps are still working out their sexual orientation.  It is not about sexual behaviour per se but about how this group of teenagers negotiate their sexual orientation and how that may change from time to time.  The author has created a group of likeable teenagers who may sometimes struggle with adolescent angst but are at heart caring and generous in spirit.  Their spirit shines through the book which is a pleasure to read.

For readers who have seen the film Grease, it may be tempting to anticipate the ending of the book.  It does not end in the same way but, as it is a children’s book, readers who enter into the spirit of the book will not be disappointed.

Sophie Gonzales is a YA contemporary author.  She graduated from the University of Adelaide and lives in Melbourne where she works as a psychologist.  Sophie also ice skates, performs in musical theatre and practises the piano.  She has also written The Law of Inertia.

Only Mostly Devastated

[2020]

by Sophie Gonzales

Hachette

ISBN 978 1 444 95648 1

$17.99; 278pp

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