High school junior Giovanni Zander, 17, loves the band Paramore, making playlists, and spending time with his two best friends—Ayesha, who is Black, and Olly, who is white—as well as his younger brother, Theo. Beneath his joy, though, Gio struggles to navigate his relationship with his pastor father, who hates that Gio is both bisexual and plays basketball instead of devoting his life to the church; the trauma from his mother abandoning the family when he was younger; and the world as a Black teenager. As Gio works toward developing an upbeat outlook, his birth mother suddenly reappears, asking to be part of his life. Concurrently, he must face his sexuality when David, a new neighbor and basketball teammate, develops a crush on him. With tensions rising at home, Gio fights to make sense of complicated emotions regarding his mother, David, and David’s whiteness, while also maintaining his grades, basketball, and social life. Coles (Tyler Johnson Was Here) tackles the complexities of religion and sexuality, trauma and forgiveness, and race and relationships, exploring the myriad layers of one person’s identity and the importance of each in this emotional, yet joyful, novel. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)
Gr 9 Up—When Gio was in fifth grade, his mother walked out the door, leaving him behind with his little brother and intolerant pastor father. Now she has unexpectedly made contact, throwing Gio's life into chaos. Recently out to his best friends as bisexual, Gio's life is further complicated by the arrival of David, a new student and starter on his basketball team. Gio and David's relationship builds slowly and organically from friendship to romance as the two work through tension surrounding their experiences of racism (Gio is Black and David is white) and comfort level in being fully out. Gio's friends Ayesha, who is Black, and Olly, who is white, are supportive and help carry authentic, multidimensional discussions about privilege, homophobia, and parental abandonment through the narrative. This book is accessible and easy to digest, and the author tackles big issues. Gio is often stereotyped and treated with hostility or pity by his white teachers, and his concerns about lack of diversity in the curriculum are brushed off. A candid look at the deep-seated trauma left behind by an absent parent and the importance of found family, this is ultimately a warm, genuine read. VERDICT A first choice for high school libraries and highly recommended for fans of Nic Stone.—Catherine Cote, John Champe H.S., Aldie, VA
Abandonment issues abound in an emotional coming-out, coming-of-age, and coming-to-terms story.
When 17-year-old Giovanni Zander came out to his pastor father as bisexual, it didn’t go well. His best friends and stepmother are supportive, but his often drunk, very religious dad’s rejection of who Gio really is just exacerbates how he’s been feeling ever since his mother rejected their whole family and left when he was little. Gio’s never gotten over it, so when his birthmother finally reaches out, a lot goes through his head. This high-stress situation for a queer, Black pastor’s kid facing almost comically insensitive teachers in a tough Indiana neighborhood is complicated even further by meeting David, a new White student who plays with him on the basketball team—and who may just be the one. David helps Gio through the bumpy ups and downs of his mother’s reinsertion of herself into his life, but even as this new romantic relationship flourishes, old wounds prove hard to overcome. There’s not much subtlety in Gio’s narration, in which heartbreak and hurt continually erupt from the seams of his mind and home, school, and community lives. Still, a bright spot for Gio and readers alike is the unlikely pairing of two boys who share music, basketball glory, and some desperately needed moments of intimacy.
A realistic depiction of challenging circumstances and first love. (Fiction. 12-18)
Praise for Things We Couldn't Say:
"I cannot even explain how excited I am about having a new Jay Coles book in my life." Buzzfeed
"Jay Coles' new novel is a touching coming-of-age story about a bi Black teen navigating the treacherous waters of high school, sports, and first love just as his estranged mother returns from a years-long absence." Bustle
* "A candid look at the deep-seated trauma left behind by an absent parent and the importance of found family, this is ultimately a warm, genuine read. A first choice for high school libraries and highly recommended for fans of Nic Stone." School Library Journal, starred review
"An emotional coming-out, coming-of-age, and coming-to-terms story... A realistic depiction of challenging circumstances and first love." Kirkus Reviews
"Sublime... Coles's beautifully written bildungsroman encompasses topics such as identity, grief, love, alcoholism, socioeconomics, depression, sexuality, family, race and racial injustices. It creates a safe space for queer Black boys to see themselves where they aren't always portrayed, while also offering a window and sliding glass door for readers who identify differently from Gio. As readers are invited into Gio's life, they watch him maneuver his age, race, sexuality in all their realms and learn how important it is for young adults to find an understanding of the self as well as a definition of what family and love really means... In this superbly written coming-of-age novel, a teenage boy struggles to stay afloat and be brave despite his world crumbling." Shelf Awareness
"Gio's personal journey offers a welcome intersection of identities and experiences that is sweetened by the love shown him and the love that he learns to give." Booklist