Be Dazzled is a Moving Gay Love Story
Author: Molly Catherine Turner
January 13, 2021
Ryan La Sala emerged as a unique and special voice in the queer young adult community with his debut novel Reverie in December of 2019. Just a little more than a year later, La Sala’s follow up novel, Be Dazzled is at once markedly different and somehow a perfect companion to the author’s debut. The remarkably descriptive prose that shone all through the queer contemporary young adult fantasy novel finds itself transformed within Be Dazzled, not unlike an arts and crafts project its protagonist would undertake.
Be Dazzled follows Rafael Odom, a serious and ambitious crafter determined to win Controverse, a cosplaying convention contest. In short, Raffy is determined to win Controverse with the help of his best friend May, but has to compete against his former boyfriend, Luca, who has partnered up with their former friend, Inaya. As the competition heats up, Luca and Raffy are thrown together and forced to face their past.
All these threads are deftly woven in a now and then timeline, told in first person perspective from Raffy’s point of view, alternating between the present Controverse competition, and past love story between Raffy and Luca. As Raffy says, there are moments in this book that will make you gasp. “Not a regular gasp. A gay gasp. A theatre gay, gasp.” Indeed, readers will gasp out of horror, delight, and shock, turning the page as fast as they can, eager to learn what happened between the two and how, a reveal impressively crafted as Raffy’s own creations within the novel.
An overwhelming world for those not intimately acquainted with it (fan conventions, cosplay, and art), La Sala masterfully introduces his readers to it through perhaps the finest audience surrogate ever, Raffy’s one-time boyfriend, Luca, a boyish and charming soccer player. Both Raffy and Luca have distinct and heartbreaking obstacles that keep their relationship full of conflict and their cosplay dreams just out of reach.
For Raffy, his mother, Evie, is a Miranda Priestly-esque art gallery curator, cold and withholding even to her own son, and deeply disapproving of the choice of how he uses his time and talents. Both hilarious and terrifying, Evie is described early in the novel as, “…famous for hating and destroying replicas of her work.” Evie is a masterfully crafted character that, thanks to Raffy’s very real love of his goals and desperate need for his mother to approve, never feels stereotypical. She looms large, even though she doesn’t appear until one-third of the way into the novel and strikes fear mostly off the page.
As for Luca, his conservative, traditional Italian Catholic family refuse to acknowledge he’s bisexual and thus deny any of his interests in things they deem “feminine”: anime, cosplay, and worst of all, his relationship with Raffy. While there has been a lot of discourse lately about whether coming out stories are done and over, La Sala proves these stories will always be essential by exploring queerness from new depths and angles. In examining the pain of homophobia and bi-erasure specific to Luca’s story, La Sala never loses sight or empathy from Raffy’s perspective. Even as Raffy feels pain at being hidden, La Sala makes it clear that homophobia is the cause of the conflict, not Luca, a clear writing choice that affirms the lived realities of closeted readers.
Raffy and Luca’s story is charming, compelling, and heartwarming. La Sala embroiders a wrenching a beautiful love story with two romances at its center: Raffy and Luca’s, and the art of and glory of creation itself. Be Dazzled deftly weaves these two love stories together, proving that relationships are themselves a creation, and art is love, too. La Sala shows that through art, love, and creation, there can be healing and transformation, too. Unlike Raffy, Luca’s desires to cosplay stem from a desire to live authentically, not due to ambition: “‘I want to make something amazing, too. I want people to see me the way I see me.’” Through Luca, Raffy’s ambitions and creations are transformed into healing, too. And for readers, they will certainly be left bedazzled.
By Ryan La Sala
Paperback, 9781492682691, 336 pp.