Like a Love Story (2019) by Abdi Nazemian is the historical queer coming-of-age story I never knew that I needed to read. It was a 2020 Stonewall Honor book and chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 best YA books of all time, both designations well-deserved.
It’s 1987, and Reza has just moved to New York City with his Iranian mother, who has gotten remarried. He grew up in Toronto and doesn’t remember Tehran, where he was born and where his father died. Everything in the City is new, especially his school, where he meets Judy and Art, the weird kids. Art is proudly out and gay, and terrorized for it, and Judy is his artsy best friend, a fat girl with an eye for fashion design. Art and Judy have been friends since they were very young, and spend every Sunday evening at a classic movie night with Judy’s Uncle Steven. Steven has AIDS and is active in NYC’s Act UP chapter. Art’s family is very wealthy, and he is a photographer, but they can’t understand why he is gay.
Reza has an undeniable attraction to Art but is terrified that everyone will find out that he is gay, as all he knows of gay people is AIDS and he doesn’t want to die and can’t bear to disappoint his mother. Because he doesn’t know what else to do, he befriends Judy, and they start dating. Judy is over the moon because she’s never dated before, and she becomes Reza’s first friend.
As you can imagine, the results of Reza’s actions result in misunderstandings and hurt feelings for all three teens. Reza didn’t want to hurt Judy but he’s really attracted to Art. Art is attracted to Reza but is Judy’s best friend. And Judy loves them both in different ways. And to top it all off, Uncle Steven is dying.
I loved the fact that Judy’s parents were super-involved in her life, that she got a little romance in the end, and that Reza’s stepfather is actually pretty understanding. Judy is also fat and unapologetic about it, dressing in whatever quirky way she wants to. I loved the Madonna tie-ins, and the fact that we got to see the story from all three teens’ perspectives, along with that of Uncle Steven in his gay history flashcards.
Highly recommend, though be prepared to cry.