My copy of Where You Are arrived in the mail yesterday, and as if I weren't already in love based on the summary, I opened it up and found it was not only signed by the author but personalized to me, thus ensuring I will treasure it forever. I sat down, entranced by the shiny but intending to only read a few pages, and ended up reading it cover to cover without pause - not exactly racing, but moving at a good clip. I loved it so much I didn't even think to Glee-ify it
First a quick repeat of the jacket summary for the lazy-non clickers:
Robert Westfall's life is falling apart-everywhere but in math class. That's the one place where problems always have a solution. But in the world beyond high school, his father is terminally ill, his mother is squabbling with his interfering aunts, his boyfriend is unsupportive, and the career path that's been planned for him feels less appealing by the day.
Robert's math teacher, Andrew McNelis, watches his best student floundering, concerned but wary of crossing the line between professional and personal. Gradually, Andrew becomes Robert's friend, then his confidante. As the year progresses, their relationship-in school and out of it-deepens and changes. And as hard as he tries to resist, Andrew knows that he and Robert are edging into territory that holds incalculable risks for both of them.
I'm calling it my favorite love story of the year because it is generally everything I want, with the bonus of being packaged as a student/teacher love story that, again, is set up exactly the way I crave: a foundation of support and concern propping up the attraction. Math teacher + AP Calculus senior implies an intellectual connection, even if that's not the main pull, while offering a twist on the usual teacher trope that syncs up nicely with my Numb3rs shippin' background. The best part is that it's evenly divided in alternating first-person POV from each character, which is a stretch for YA given that the older character is 24, but it really gives you a strong picture of why this relationship works.
And from cover to cover, the book literally takes no wrong turns, even when there are so many ways it could have. For one thing, Andrew is one of those divorced-with-a-kid gays, which normally I loathe with every fiber of my being, but his 2-year-old daughter is unbearably cute and it wasn't so much a "I didn't know who I was" thing as a "we were best friends and she liked me and it was a one-time mistake when I was upset and then I tried to do right by them" thing.
Robert gets obnoxiously drunk at one point, but since his drunken state leads him to an uncontrollable crying jag when triggered by a sad song and it results in spooning until they fall asleep, HOW COULD THAT GET BETTER?? We're also told he has a boyfriend, but he's the most shallow, self-absorbed, one-dimensional stereotype ever and they don't even kiss, so it's almost like he exists just so we can see one more thing get fixed in Robert's life when he's gone. ;)
Most of all, characters swear a fair amount and there is use of entirely too many terms when it comes to sex that I am just not okay with - and yet always, either the swearing makes total sense in the moment and/or the terms don't bother me so much because they are clinically rather than colloquially graphic, and/or have a purpose in the story**. (OH MY GOD I'VE BECOME THAT PERSON. No! Undo!)
**AND ALSO THE SCENES ARE TAME. For instance, the first time they sleep together is between perspective shifts, so at first I didn't even realize what had happened. I thought we were still in the hug and then suddenly it was undeniably clear we were in the aftermath and I'm going, "Oh my. You're naked." They're not all quite as nice and faded to black as I would like them to be, but my mind is registering no scars or lasting trauma because it was just romance all the way.
Speaking of the hurt/comfort aspect, there are no fewer than three tearful breakdowns from Robert, and Andew has a semi-abusive relationship in his backstory, so I am pretty content in that department. I haven't even factored in the way Robert's father dies in the advanced stages of cancer (not that they were especially close), or the generally wonderful fact that he loves animals, or the cute scenes in which he volunteers with developmentally challenged kids.
Finally, all the conflict is perfect, even when it hurts. That is the most important thing of all when you're writing a novel: divisive conflict that shakes things up and makes a strong impression without breaking everything down entirely. Bravo.
In conclusion, I'm not saying I didn't eventually find my way back to In The Key of Us as a nightcap to this story, because I will always have Glee-based needs, but the book really did stand on its own. I spent all of yesterday and all of today rereading passages (we are approaching accidental memorization land) because it was just. that. good. Favorite book of the year?? I can't make snap decisions like that, but maybe! Because it is definitely on my list of lifetime favorites, and I don't add those lightly.
It's at the point where it almost feels surreal to think of it as a book - how dare there be less than 5-star reviews! How can you even talk about "characters"?? - because it was all so vivid and clear I'm pretty sure I either lived it or was right there watching it happen. What do you mean, I can't look these people up on Facebook because "they don't exist"?