REVIEW: I Will Be Okay by Bill Elenbark

The Official Description: The intensity of two boys’ feelings for each other threatens to be overwhelmed by family tensions that rip them apart before their relationship even starts. Mateo’s father is overly obsessed with his fifteen-year-old son’s baseball achievements to the exclusion of other interests (manga, indie rock music, and Stick—the boy from the “troubled” family down the street, the one with thirteen children of mixed races). Mateo’s mother comes from a sprawling Puerto Rican family that provides little privacy and complicated support as Mateo and his father clash over a baseball injury that jeopardizes his season. Down the street, Stick is dealing with the sudden loss of his father and living up to an image he believes his father saw in himself, one that wasn’t gay, which drives him to drink and do drugs beyond anything he and Mateo have experimented. They come together and fall apart. Like a mantra, Mateo repeats the words from one of the band’s songs whenever he gets hurt or afraid: I WILL BE OKAY. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work.

Just the facts: YA, LGBTQIA content, coming out, death of a parent, substance use.

This is an intense roller coaster ride full of emotion, pain and happiness. One of the most authentic YA books I’ve read in a long time. – Kinzie Things

My thoughts bit:  “I Will Be Okay” is a really beautiful YA novel. The writing style is creative and the characters are on point. I’m pretty particular about the YA novels that I read. I think I actually expect more from the genre than I do from adult fiction. I am aware because of my work at the library that young readers are really choosey about what they read. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book to anyone.

Mateo and Stick are best friends. They are also feeling the beginnings of sexual attraction to one another from the first pages of the book. There is so much going on around these two characters, it’s not surprising that they are looking for a bit of escapism. They love their music, committed to the Indie band “The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die” and they huff glue, drink… to lose themselves.

At the same time that Mateo is struggling with his own sexual orientation and whether or not he should “come out”… his father is leaning on him heavily about baseball. Mateo was a good ballplayer, then he injured his ankle. Now that he is healed, he’s much less interested in playing and that is a bone of contention with his father. There is a lot of pressure in his Purto Rican family to be “the man”, and playing baseball was how he used to connect with his father. There is a lot of friction between Mateo and his father when it becomes clearer that Mateo isn’t interested in continuing to play ball.

Stick lives in a different world than Mateo. Stick’s family is huge and his siblings are adopted. His mother left and he’s always been close with his father. When tragedy strikes and his father dies, he is completely caught up in his grief. I don’t want to go into great detail and ruin the plot of this story… suffice to say that Stick is dealing with a lot as he struggles with the way his friendship with Mateo begins to change.

I loved the writing style in this story. When Matt is caught up in his own head, the sentences stretch out, the thoughts and feelings jumping around. It was a lovely way to get to know Mateo as he is getting to know himself. His thoughts do jump around because it’s really hard for him to deal with everything that is happening at once. As he is exploring his own sexuality and his growing feelings for his best friend he is also struggling with the tricky relationship with his father.

When Mateo and Stick are caught up in music, or a moment of substance inspired beauty, their thoughts are drawn out and it almost becomes a stream of consciousness. I love that music is so bound up in their emotions. I know that music was huge for me when I was a teenager. At times, I felt as though there was nothing that described how I was feeling other than the songs that I listened to. The author must love music because I could totally relate to the way Mateo and Stick got caught up in music… especially when they went to a live show! You have to be a music lover to really be able to catch the feeling of live gigs.

This is a wonderful YA novel that will appeal to people of all ages. It’s touching, unique, and has a remarkably authentic voice. I loved it.

Things You May Want To Know: Please be aware, I’m by no means an expert on what may or may not have the potential to disturb people. I simply list things that I think a reader might want to be aware of. In this book: (SPOILERS) physical violence between siblings, domestic assault, death of a parent, extreme grief, substance use (drugs and alcohol), substance use underage, description of baseball injuries (ankle then wriest), vomiting.

Readalikes: Other stories that are similar or give the same feel.

Links: Goodreads // The Author // The Publisher

I received an ARC of I Will Be Okay by Bill Elenbark from Walrus Publishing via Edelweiss in exchange for an unbiased review.

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