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Perfect on Paper by Sophie Gonzales

Perfect On Paper made my heart TRULY fucking sing. Let’s just start there. This book brought me pure pure joy and while I might not have anything overly critical to say about this book I’m happy for this review to just be a list of why I loved it.

Darcy Philips has a secret. Locker 89, famous Locker 89. The locker where everyone in Darcy’s school reaches out for relationship advice. Darcy is Locker 89. Not even her best friend Brooke knows about it. But one afternoon when Darcy thinks the coast is clear Alexander Brougham, the new Australian kid, catches her red-handed—letter-filled hands that is. Conveniently though, Brougham needs help. He wants his ex-girlfriend back and he courteously (not so courteously) promises Darcy her secret is safe with him if she will help him out. Classic contemporary YA with perfectly modern and loveable twists—I really couldn’t ask for more. But wait, did I mention Darcy is bisexual and in love with her best friend? Yes, that is happening too.

While Perfect On Paper seems like an incredibly light jaunt—which it is—it also incorporates some of the really tough elements of bisexuality but in a completely safe zone. Gonzales’ focus and aim of the book (touched on in her acknowledgements) was to explore bi-erasure and the impact that has on people who identify as bisexual. In case you are confused, bi-erasure or bisexual invisibility is the tendency to ignore, remove, falsify, or reexplain evidence of bisexuality. Bisexual erasure may include the assertion that all bisexual individuals are in a phase and will soon choose a side, either heterosexual or homosexual. This is something that people who identify as bi-sexual, myself included, constantly struggle with. It is not a question of picking a side, liking a certain gender more or less and it can be confusing and really upsetting to have to struggle with these ideas even personally let alone in the face of others. I really sympathized with Darcy despite my feelings of bi-erasure being the counter to hers. Sometimes I feel fraudulent to identify this way having never had a girlfriend and so on but I don’t have to prove to anyone how bisexual I am nor is it a race to prove it to myself. This book made me feel incredibly comforted in my own sexuality journey and I urge any one feeling similarly to give this book a read. Not only will you feel comforted by a story echoing that of your own but trust me there is plenty of giddiness to giggle at too.

Do you ever read a book, YA specifically but any book broadly, and think oh goodness this is misguided? You question the moral compass of the characters you are growing to know? Well not this book. OKAY there is ONE questionable thing that happens but it is the beginning of a journey of self-awareness and character correction. But overall, the ACTUAL relationship advice we get from Locker 89 is top notch. I wish I had advice like this when I was in high school, I wish I could photocopy the pages and show them to everyone who needs them because I was thoroughly impressed. The reason why this is important is because it redefines ideas young readers, the target market, have around relationships. Toxicity, attachment issues, and idea of playing hard to get are romanticized and ghosting is the go-to these days. But here Gonzales shows the reader real healthy relationship parameters. It forces the reader, young adult or otherwise, to check themselves and make sure they, and furthermore their partners, are abiding by this advice that is put before them. Here are a few quotes when it comes to healthy respectful relationships that stood out to me:

‘“What is it with guys calling their girlfriends school? It’s an epidemic...If there is one thing guys love, it’s an excuse to avoid accountability for their own role in causing the behaviour they don’t like.”’

‘Let’s do some redefining. It’s totally reasonable to communicate your needs. But you seem confused about what your needs are. You don’t need anything from your boyfriend. You want it...I recommend rewording the way you explain your needs to him … let him know what he could do to help you feel loved.’

‘Just keep it consensual, and remember just because she agreed to hang out with you, does not mean she’s agreed to a date with you.’

I love that ideas of consent, toxic masculinity, and healthy communication are being explored in books for young adults because they are a product of what they consume. If they are consuming amazingly self-aware and considerate content then it will in turn create a more self-aware and considerate young person, which is what we can all hope and wish for our future.

I sometimes hate to bang on about great representation because do you know what great representation is? It’s real life. Gay people, trans people, bi people, straight people, the odd Australian all around EVERYWHERE. However, I will continue to bang on about it until I see the same rep I know and love from real life in every single book and film ever. One of the many amazing parts of this book was Q&Q club. This is the Queer & Questioning club. Firstly, can I please join? And secondly I love the fictional depiction of a club like this in a modern highschool. I’d like to hope they exist in real life and if they don’t, I hope readers of this book will be inspired to start one as such. Schools can be AWFUL, no matter how good a time you had in high school I think we can all safely attest to this fact. However, it is considerably worse for people of the LGBTQIA+ community because people can be cunts. The mutual respect between the supervising teacher, Mr. Elliot and his students is incredibly wholesome.

‘He said as long as the door was closed, we could view him as more of a queer mentor than a teacher, and it was a safe space to discuss inappropriate behaviour or comments from other teachers without having to feel uncomfortable around him.’

A safe space is INCREDIBLY important. Being able to discuss your thoughts and feelings, about anything is essential to the journey of working through them and living with them. However, it is especially essential for the queer community as it is incredibly easy to feel alone and lost in a battle you feel you’re the first to fight. Also, having other like-minded and fun people around you is a great part of life so the inclusion of this when it was not essential to the plot was really special. Q&Q club shows the reader the value of open and safe communication, good friends and how fulfilling it can be to be proud.

“Once again, Finn, we are not a cult, and we do not have recruitment targets.”

Perfect On Paper is going to be a force in the YA world. It has everything the best contemporary YA novels have to offer and more. It made me feel safe, heard, and accepted. I feel really encouraged to accept who I am and it allowed me to feel incredibly secure in my own newly identified bisexuality. I urge all young and old queer readers to grab this book, it’ll make you feel warm inside. While not everyone may agree, to me it was perfect.

Perfect On Paper

By Sophie Gonzales

342 pages. 2021.

Buy it now from our Bookshops in the US and UK.


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