I don’t usually give out such specific ratings, but I found Autoboyography difficult to judge. It is definitely above the average 3* rating but didn’t quite hit a 4*. I think it’s also interesting to note here that Christina Lauren is the name of a writing duo who have released almost 20 books, so this novel was worked on by two minds.
This novel follows teenage boy Tanner, who is in his final year of high school. Persuaded by his best friend Autumn, he takes a class called the Seminar, where students attempt to draft a novel in one semester. I adored the idea of this class, so the setting was fascinating to me regardless of the characters. However, Lauren’s characters are also enjoyable and engaging and lovely. Tanner and his family were a joy to read about, and although they disagreed on some things he had such a powerful bond with his parents, and I thought that his relationship with his sister was extremely realistic.
Tanner lives in a town that is overwhelmingly Mormon, something that clashes with his identification as bisexual and dominates his community. With Tanner’s mother having denounced a religious background, this all made for interesting and sometimes uncomfortable discussion throughout the novel. Although I’m an atheist, I am fascinated by religious beliefs and cultures, and it was so interesting to read about a community that came across as such a self-contained bubble.
The conflict of the novel occurs when Tanner falls for his mentor in the Seminar, a Mormon guy who has his novel picked up by a large publisher after participating in last year’s class. It soon becomes obvious that Tanner’s feelings are reciprocated by Sebastian, and it is painful to witness his struggle between his sexuality and his faith. At points it seems that the two can co-exist, but it becomes clear that Sebastian will be shunned by his family and community if he admits to being gay. Hearing Sebastian’s thoughts broke my heart frequently and fuelled me with a kind of anger at his mistreatment, and that his environment doesn’t allow him to express who he is.
Tanner and Sebastian’s relationship, particularly when they were alone, was electric and grabbed my attention right from the beginning. The care with which Tanner wrote about Sebastian and every little detail about him made me feel as though I was the one falling in love with him. Along with Tanner, I wanted to protect Sebastian, to encourage him and provide him with a safe and accepting space. One thing I would liked to have seen more of was Sebastian’s perspective. I loved being in Tanner’s head and I think alternating chapters between the two would have meant the sacrifice of the intense draw I felt to Tanner’s narrative. However, a few more chapters from Sebastian’s perspective being scattered through the book would have been appreciated. Firstly, it would have been interesting to see the contrast of such different home environments and cultures. Additionally, I would have liked to have been in Sebastian’s head more to see his personal dealings with his sexuality and religion rather than guessing it through what Tanner could pick up.
I loved the attention Lauren gave to tiny details in relationship, and the intensity of emotions displayed about the smallest things, such as the brush of two fingers, or catching the other smiling in a certain way. Personally, description such as this makes me far more invested in a relationship and the character’s feelings than graphic descriptions.
The other main thing I loved about this novel was the emphasis on friendship; although Tanner and Autumn had their ups and downs, they avoided the drama of many YA novels and were good friends in that they quickly came back together and made an effort once one of them realised they were drifting. It was also really nice to see a platonic relationship between a guy and girl, although things happened between the two at various points, they were friends first and foremost.
Now onto why I dropped the novel down a quarter of a star. This novel definitely wasn’t a 5* read, as that rating is reserved for things that completely blow my mind. However, it would have been a solid 4* if it weren’t for a couple of things. Firstly, I found myself slightly skimming the text at points. I don’t know if this is just something that I do with contemporaries, as I also did it with my last read, Leah on the Offbeat, because less attention to the text is required to keep up with the plot; a lot of words are dedicated to describing emotions and internal monologue. My other issue is also one I had with Leah, and that is dissatisfaction with the ending of the book. I just wanted more: although Sebastian turned up at the end of the book, it was unexplained how he had managed to do so, and what changes had been made in his life. Although I was glad to see him, the whole novel had been spent emphasising how long his mission would take him away for, and the limitations of his religious university. I would have liked to see how these changes had been put in place, or a little section of his and Tanner’s interactions after the initial surprise. In contrast, this could also just be a compliment to the authors in that I wanted more content!
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