“I Love You Just the Way You Are” is the story of transformation. Of the main characters coming into their own and living their most authentic selves, and none more so than Maddie, a trans girl who braves going back to high school presenting as female when, just a year ago, she was still closeted. Maddie is incredibly brave, but she also has an amazing support system in her parents and her twin sister, making sure she is safe and able to live her truth. And then there’s Kellan, the star quarterback who has a truly horrendous home situation, but is incredibly popular and can sleep with any woman he wants in a love-them-and-leave-them fashion, until he sees Maddie working in a local café over the summer. He’s immediately smitten by this metalhead with her manga hair, and will not take no for an answer when she spurns his advances. Because while Kellan may not remember Maddie from before she came out, Maddie certainly remembers Kellan! While I loved that Kellan was so instantly attracted to Maddie and desperate to be with her or be her friend, his obsessiveness could be a bit… much at times.
This story takes place when the characters are juniors, or there abouts, in high school, so I do expect them to do things that are annoying or silly at times just because I, an adult, “know better”. But Kellan is told multiple times to leave Maddie alone by Maddie herself and he just won’t. It’s supposed to be “ok” because she secretly has always liked him too and is only pushing him away because she’s scared he doesn’t truly like her for who she is, but even so. The intensity with which Kellan fawns over her and tries to get to know her can be a bit stalkerish at times, which did make some of those scenes uncomfortable, as they are far too common for young women, which isn’t ok. Kellan does turn into a wonderful ally and he is a gentle and loving kid, even if he can be so obsessed with Maddie that she practically becomes his whole personality for chunks of the story. But I guess that’s just the intensity of young love for you?
Watching Maddie thrive as her authentic self is the highlight of this book. How she lives her life without shame and without hiding despite the bullying she faces is inspiring. She speaks candidly about what she went through, including her self-harm and attempts at suicide, both accidental and intentional. Then you have Kellan’s parents who are both alcoholics and have a tendency to abuse their son. So, if those topics are sensitive areas for you, just be forewarned. None of the self-harm happens in the present with which this story takes place, but Maddie and her family do discuss what happened to her “off page”, if you will, and you do see instances of how awful Kellan’s parents are to him. Maddie is an emotional girl, understandably, so she occasionally has outbursts that I thought were way over the top given the situation, and sometimes she’s a bit tyrannical when it comes to her veganism, but to each their own.
All in all, this was a sweet story and I love that it’s told by an own voices author! The themes this book covers are so important and vital for young kids who are discovering who they are and what they do and don’t like, in and out of a relationship and when it comes to their own bodies, too. Seeing a loving relationship with a trans woman and a, formally, cis male, was refreshing, especially as the author shows both the emotional and physical side of that relationship, and what that means for Maddie on her journey of self-love and acceptance. If it weren’t for some instances with Kellan and his complete obsession with Maddie, this book would get a higher rating from me, but as is, I’m giving it 4 stars and do recommend it to anyone interested in getting more in tune with the trans community or anyone who wants more stories around gender and sexual orientation but with a HEA. And thanks to the author and a Novel Cause for sending me a copy for an honest review!
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