When Mike’s family relocates from the Midwest to a small Virginia town on the Atlantic coast, little seems to change. He has a couple new friends, but his father still pressures him to focus on sports, and bullies like his classmate Victor still see his quiet demeanor as an easy target. When basketball player Sean transfers into Mike’s French class, a class project–related sleepover turns into a midnight trip to the beach, skinny-dipping, and more. The two swear to keep their relationship a secret, but Victor, bent on causing chaos, releases a video of Mike and Sean and contacts their religious parents. When the truth of the boys’ sexuality becomes public, Mike must decide whether he can give into the pressure of his parents’ expectations. Debut author Mittlefehldt’s direct style of writing cuts to the heart of Mike’s struggle to embrace his true self and to take control of his life, bringing freshness to a familiar plot. The story is propelled in small, quiet moments that steadily build toward much-deserved hope and acceptance. Ages 14–up. Agent: Brianne Johnson, Writers House. (Sept.)
Gr 9 Up—High school freshman Mike deals with homophobia and heartbreak in this throwback coming-out story. Recently transplanted from Wisconsin to Virginia, shy Mike is mostly a loner at school and feels uncomfortable in his "old-fashioned" family. His conservative, religious father wishes Mike were into sports instead of art and always seems mildly disappointed in his son. When Mike meets Sean, unspoken attraction eventually blooms into something more. A school bully films the two kissing and alerts the boys' parents to their relationship, setting into motion horrific yet inevitable events. Mike is shipped off to a conversion therapy program, while Sean meets the same fate as so many gay teens from young adult novels of the past. Unlike in those older offerings, however, a few characters provide acceptance, including Mike's fantastically loving and outspoken younger sister, Toby. Mittlefehldt manages to make the tragedies that befall Mike and Sean not seem like punishments for being gay. Instead, they are shown for what they are: things that happened because of people failing to support and love the boys. The work is told through factual, detached narration and is devoid of quotation marks, and it can be difficult to feel a connection to Mike, who has his guard up for good reasons. It's only after tragedy strikes that characters begin to drop their defenses and show real emotion and the capacity for change. VERDICT A moving but dated-feeling examination of the costs of homophobia; an additional purchase for LGBTQ collections.—Amanda MacGregor, formerly at Great River Regional Library, Saint Cloud, MN
Ignorance takes a parent from powerful to pitiful in this steady coast through tragic heartbreak and retribution.Fourteen-year-old Mike is starting high school in a new city after he, his parents, and younger sister, Toby, move eastward from Wisconsin to Virginia. He has a tight circle of outsider friends, a burgeoning artistic talent, an offensive chain-smoking nemesis named Victor, and a crush on a handsome, older classmate named Sean. A French class assignment pairs Sean and Mike together, and the frissons of excitement when he is near comfortable, confident Sean commence with a regularity that thrills Mike. It's incredible and feels good and right. Then why is Sean's father casting suspicious glances? Why does Mike's ultraconservative, religious father want him to play sports so badly? And why does Toby face swift punishment in order to defend Mike from a Baptist, Bible-banging grandmother who calls him "soft"? The first-person narrative is easy, casual, and calm, indicative of Mike, whose quiet perceptiveness can be misconstrued by outsiders as passivity (no speech marks make the dialogue feel direct and intimate). Sean's race isn't explicitly identified, but his brown skin offers respite from a snow-white landscape. A haven of understanding for readers who have felt the foolish hand of ignorance trying to prevent them from knowing, being, and loving who they are. (Fiction. 14-18)
It Looks Like This looks to be the debut novel of the season. Mike and Sean’s discovery of their love for each other is told with such exquisite tenderness, I could not put the book down, even when I knew that something dreadful was going to happen. Despite many obstacles, Mike comes into his own with the help of understanding friends, a few kind adults, a faithful dog, and Toby, the greatest little sister since Phoebe Caulfield. This is an extremely powerful book.
—Lesléa Newman, author of October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard
It Looks Like This perfectly captures the buzzing static that hits your brain the second you realize you’re not the person your parents expect you to be. A painful, poignant story about choosing compassion over anger.
—Maggie Thrash, author-illustrator of Honor Girl, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist
The first-person narrative is easy, casual, and calm and indicative of Mike, whose quiet perceptiveness can be misconstrued by outsiders as passivity (no speech marks make the dialogue feel direct and intimate)...A haven of understanding for readers who have felt the foolish hand of ignorance trying to prevent them from knowing, being, and loving who they are.
There is a grace in the slow reconciliation of Mike with his family; hard-won connections feel authentic as Mike’s dad slowly thaws long after his mother has adjusted. Mike’s wry, wise-beyond-her-years sister, Toby, is a contemporary Phoebe Caulfield, and she bears a lot of social risk to protect her big brother. There are plenty of sunny coming-out stories; this stark reminder that being gay can also still mean getting prayed over at straight camp or being shunned is also, unfortunately, part of the lived experience. It’s handled with beauty and care here, and the concluding muted hopefulness is perfectly aligned with the novel’s arc.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Debut author Mittlefehldt’s direct style of writing cuts to the heart of Mike’s struggle to embrace his true self and to take control of his life, bringing freshness to a familiar plot. The story is propelled in small, quiet moments that steadily build toward much-deserved hope and acceptance.
It Looks Like This tackles first love, bullying, religion, finding yourself, and forgiveness...Mittlefehldt pens a coming-out story that does not have a happy ending, but gives hope towards a more tolerant future for Mike and his family.
A moving...examination of the costs of homophobia.
—School Library Journal
This first novel is a powerful, sympathetic, and insightful look at what goes through the mind of gay kids when the understanding of their identity hits. The confusion of adolescence is written about with empathy and compassion.
—School Library Connection