Welcome to the latest stop on The Write Reads tour for Straight Expectations by Calum McSwiggan!
*insert wild applause here*
I’ve been reading some *really* heavy stuff lately, and so when Dave from TheWriteReads offered me a spot on the tour for Straight Expectations by Calum McSwiggan (Penguin, 2023), I took one look at that adorable, rainbow-splashed cover and I was IN. YA fiction full of queer characters, and the main character wakes up in an alternate reality? Yes, please! I love alternate reality stories. This was bound to be fun, I thought…and I was right.
Max is queer, proud, and fully at ease with himself, his strong fashion sense, and his fabulously manicured nails. He’s got supportive parents, the best friend group anyone could ever ask for (Dean is also queer, Alicia is not), and a super supportive queer group at school. He’s a little iffy on what the future holds, but his best friends both seem to have everything mapped out. That’s a little tough to deal with, as is the fact that Max is single with a capital SINGLE. He can barely figure out how to talk to Oliver, his crush, and all the strain from these things finally lead Max into a major blow-up scene with Dean and Alicia. Mixed in with a whole bunch of other hurtful things he doesn’t truly mean, Max wishes he were normal, that he could just wake up and not be gay and that he could have an easy life like one of the normal kids.
When Max wakes up the next day, everything is…different. His life is similar, but everything is just a little bit off. Gone are all his attractions to boys. Alicia is now…his girlfriend?!?!? His parents are no longer divorced, but they’re not happy, either, and worst of all, Dean seems to have disappeared entirely. Devastated by the complete absence of his best friend, Max sets off on a journey to figure out what the hell happened, and discovers that Straight Max hasn’t always been the coolest guy. Can Max even begin to put things right???
This was a really fun and thought-provoking read. Straight Expectations’ cast of characters is instantly likable; I feel like Calum McSwiggan did an excellent job balancing the creation of an excellent friend group (including both the Max/Dean/Alicia trio and the queer group at school) with taking the time to point out the many ways in which Max has privilege. OG Max throws a tantrum before making his wish, which some reviews have clocked as being spoiled, but I think he’s also in a place in life where it can feel *really* frustrating when everyone around you seems to have things figured out, and you just…don’t. He does say some really hurtful things to his friends, but I’m also willing to cut him some slack here because boy, do I get what that feels like. Growing up is tough, and as Max shows, it’s an exercise in making mistakes and learning to come back from them. Having forgiving friends also makes things a little easier.
Straight Max is so bewildered by his lack of gay feelings and all the changes his not being gay has wrought in his life. Whole people have disappeared, which is super jarring until you realize exactly where they went, and why. His divorced parents are back together, and his dad is working a job he hates…which is, in a surprising way, directly related to Max’s sexuality and acceptance of himself. It all weaves together in a beautifully complex way that will have you marvelling at how very connected everything in life truly is.
This is a fun book. Not everyone is affirming in the book; there’s a teacher who’s a straight-up jerk to the queer kids, along with a student who’s kind of half-heartedly trying to be an ally but misses the mark most of the time, but in general, Calum McSwiggan has created a world where it’s okay to be out, queer, and proud about it, and where you never lack for friends and parents who love you for who you are. Even for someone like me, an anxious middle-aged woman, the characters here had a lot to teach me about self-acceptance and pride, and I appreciate that. I really loved how comfortable Dean and Max are with themselves, how they take who they are and what they’re into and what speaks to them and celebrate everything about themselves. I think that’s a good message for everyone – especially for the LGBTQ+ crowd, but it’s a good reminder for everyone else as well.
Huge thanks to NetGalley, Callum McSwiggan, Penguin, and Dave from TheWriteReads for allowing me to take part in this tour!
Straight Expectations is available at bookstores near you May 4, 2023. Support your local bookstores!
Follow Calum McSwiggan on Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram! Check out TheWriteReads here and here!