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It is a time when, for queer folks, the American flag is a trigger. Whether in storefronts, on car bumpers or snapping in the breeze, our country’s symbol has taken on new meaning. Those who display our flag are, in many cases, showcasing support for the Trump presidency. America’s stars and stripes are now a warning to members of the LGBTQIA+ community. At times, one might think, even just for a moment, “Are we moving backwards?”
Abdi Nazemian’s third novel, Like a Love Story, is, in fact, an epic YA love story. Equally paramount, this book is an honest, heart-jerking history lesson. Nazemian transports readers to 1989, a time when queer culture was under attack.
Reza is an Iranian teen and recent New York City transplant. His new life includes a new step family, a new school and a new hatred of his blooming sexuality. Reza tells readers, “…all I can see are images of dying men and lesions…I must live, and to live, I can’t ever be what I know that I am.”
Art is a “proud-ass rainbow.” Out, abrasive and razor-edged, he is the token queer in his class. Raging from the lack of equality, he thrives on the urge to “…fight the power, to screw the system.” Art can be found constantly snapping photos, capturing the sorrow and pain in his community.
Judy is a larger than life fashionista who “looks like a cross between Cyndi Lauper and a Botero painting.” She and Art are “two puzzle pieces that decided to escape the rest of the puzzle because (alone, they) fit so good.” With her sewing machine and a pint of ice cream, Judy dreams of one day becoming a famous designer.
In Like a Love Story, Abdi Nazemian has created an instantly classic trio of teen characters. They are unique, yet relatable. They are flawed, yet highly likable. It’s easy to find a friend in Nazemian’s players. Readers want to tag along with Judy on Movie Night. We easily crush for Reza and his adorable, anxious ways. And who can’t help but be inspired by Art’s brash attitude and heroic actions?
Like a Love Story follows Reza, Judy and Art as they fumble through first love. Amid adolescent pangs of emotion, this threesome is embroiled in the most gruesome period of LGBTQIA+ history. Nazemian expertly weaves his fiction around actual events. Our beloved characters join New York City’s legendary ACT UP organization and participate in protests of the Stock Exchange, Trump Tower, and the Catholic Church. By revisiting the past, Nazemian’s novel reminds us that resistance is a central part of the our culture. Art tells us:
For the first time in my life, I know what being gay is all about. It’s not about the wet dreams, or the jerking off, or the ability to impersonate your diva of choice. It’s about the feeling you get when you look into another person’s eyes and have and out-of-body experience. It’s about whatever the hell I was feeling when I saw Reza for the first time…How can I not keep fighting for that?
Thanks to Judy’s ailing Uncle Stephen and his library of note cards, young readers are given a thorough education of queer culture. From the Cockettes to Provincetown, from Madonna to Judy Garland, his chronicle is concise. Card number seventy-five, though, is truly the hub of Nazemian’s tale and the root of our resistance. Stephen tells us:
[AIDS] is our disease, born of our deficiencies. But I’ll tell you what we’ll never be deficient of. LOVE…We are brothers and sister, mentors and students and together we are limitless and whole. The most important four-letter word in our history will always be LOVE. That’s what we are fighting for. That’s who we are. Love is our legacy.
Like a Love Story is like a frank history of our struggles, like a bright promise for what lies ahead. Abdi Nazemian’s novel epitomizes our strength. It is my story and your story. The LGBTQIA+ community will continue to fight because there has never been any other option. Someday soon, our flag will belong to us.
Like a Love Story
By Abdi Nazemian
Balzer + Bray
Hardcover, 9780062839367, 432 pp.