It’s just three words: I am nonbinary. But that’s all it takes to change everything.
When Ben De Backer comes out to their parents as nonbinary, they’re thrown out of their house and forced to move in with their estranged older sister, Hannah, and her husband, Thomas, whom Ben has never even met. Struggling with an anxiety disorder compounded by their parents’ rejection, they come out only to Hannah, Thomas, and their therapist and try to keep a low profile in a new school.
But Ben’s attempts to survive the last half of senior year unnoticed are thwarted when Nathan Allan, a funny and charismatic student, decides to take Ben under his wing. As Ben and Nathan’s friendship grows, their feelings for each other begin to change, and what started as a disastrous turn of events looks like it might just be a chance to start a happier new life.
Hi everyone! Today, I’ll be talking about a book I recently read and loved: I Wish You All The Best by Mason Deaver. This was another book I read for the gender, sexuality, and women’s study course I am taking this semester focused on YA books, but it had actually been on my to-read list since it was released in 2019. So far for the course, I’ve read Cemetery Boys (read my review here) and The Black Flamingo which was great, but I have to say I Wish You All The Best is my favourite so far. I am usually not big on contemporary books, but I truly adored I Wish You All The Best. It had me so hooked that I finished it in about a day! Something I really enjoyed from this book was the mental health representation (which I talk about more in this review) and the ways in which I was able to relate to Ben. I recommend it for any YA lover, as long as you are aware of the content warnings: (Ben being kicked out of their house after coming out, misgendering, anxiety disorder & depression) With all that in mind, I braced myself to read a sad story and while it is sad, it is more than just a “sad story” and ends on a positive and hopeful note.
Why I enjoyed I Wish You All The Best so much:
(Warning for some spoilers as I discuss details from the plot!)
Ben’s internal monologue:
One reason I love reading is because of the way I am able to connect well with characters by reading their thoughts, unlike in shows or movies. This was absolutely the case with IWYATB. I felt like Ben was a lot like me because 90% of their thoughts stay in their head and they usually say about 10%. There were a few times I was reading their response to someone asking a question and I’d have to remind myself that the quotation marks were only on the first part and the rest were their thoughts. I think without being able to read Ben’s thoughts, a lot of their growth and character arc would not be understood the same.
I like to say that I don’t have one favourite book, just a bunch of books I read at the perfect time, and while that’s a bit cheesy I think that it is true. Ben is 18 which as a recently turned 20-year old (whattt?) I am able to relate to as that wasn’t that long ago for me. I think this is a really interesting age for change because one is leaving the often tightly controlled environment of high school for university or time off school which allows them a lot more freedom. So with that in mind, I was able to find ways I related to Ben or used to and could imagine how they might change in the future. One thing I related to was Ben always downplaying their accomplishments when Nathan would compliment their artwork.
But I don’t think he realizes how difficult it can be to forget all the mistakes when I know they’re my fault. When I know I should’ve caught them. “It’s hard to be proud of something you messed up, even if everything around it is perfect.”
I remember doing this a lot in high school and even though I’ve mostly broken out of it, I find myself doing it in my self-talk from time to time. I guess being able to relate to Ben’s actions just made it very real to me, and also made me think of how a sequel to the story would be great to see how Ben is able to grow more comfortable in their identity after leaving high school and going on tour with Mariam. (I just learnt there is actually a short story that takes place after IWYATB, so I will be reading that ASAP)
Also, this age factor really highlighted how shitty it is for many LGBTQ+ teens who are not able to be themselves because school is often not a safe place. Another thing I thought of was fashion and developing a sense of style which I think goes under a big transformation after high school. I had worn a uniform all through high school, so at first actually having to dress myself for university was a little daunting, and it’s only now that I feel I have been able to develop a sense of style. In Ben’s case, they have a chance to start anew though there is still a lot of societal pressure preventing them from dressing how they would like to and Hannah mostly does their shopping. I’d love to see how their style evolves in a potential sequel… (Hey Mason Deaver??).
The mental health representation:
From reading lots of YA specifically fantasy, more often than not characters go through some type of trauma. However, they do not often get helped or have this treated, even in most of the contemporary books I’ve read. I Wish You All The Best was completely different in that Ben attends therapy as well as takes medication for their anxiety and depression. I think this is a very positive view on treating mental health which is something I needed to see represented in a book. The novel really captures Ben’s anxiety right from the beginning pages as they plan to come out to their parents, as well as in their interactions with people where they often wonder if they are telling them the truth, and they often apologize for things they don’t need to. Dr. Turner usually catches on in these moments and provides Ben with reassurance, which is sometimes all they need. It also seems realistic as Ben is not magically healed or anything, but instead finds ways to cope throughout the novel.
I think I loved Hannah and Ben’s “sib” relationship the most. It definitely wasn’t perfect but I’m glad they had the scene with Dr. Turner where they were able to finally talk about how her departure 10 years before affected Ben. Though a terrible situation led to it, I am glad they were able to rekindle their relationship and both leave their shitty parents behind. I love how Hannah and Thomas became Ben’s new “parents.” Also, Hannah helping Ben come out to Dr. Turner, and the painting nails scene both got me good.
Nathan & Ben (good ol’ friends to lovers)
Watching Nathan and Ben’s relationship develop was beautiful, but painful at the same time with Nathan often unintentionally misgendering Ben. I really got hooked reading to find out when they would finally confess their feelings (I was like this boy obviously likes you… I mean after that Troye Sivan song moment, are you still questioning it?) and for Ben to come out to Nathan. I really enjoyed reading about their relationship and how supportive Nathan was of Ben as a friend and finally, as their boyfriend.
If you’ve also read I Wish You All The Best, I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings in the comments below!