I Knew Him by Abigail de Niverville
Published: Nine Star Press (April 15th 2019)
Genre: young adult; contemporary
LGBT rep: bi mc, gay li, three side gay characters, side lesbian character
Rating: 4/5 🍑
ARC provided by the publisher.
You know those books that just make you feel safe? As if someone you love gave you a long, warm hug? As if for a brief moment you knew with absolute certainty that everything is going to be okay?
That’s how I Knew Him made me feel.
This is very much a character driven story, even though I can tell you it lowkey hinges on a high school production of Hamlet. But first and foremost, this is a story of Jules. He’s a senior in a small Canadian town, has his group of friends, some of them being people he has known basically since he was a little kid, and all he’s waiting for is graduation. He’s waiting for the opportunity to move out, start his life over again in some big city and finally, finally be himself! A sentiment most of LGBT kids share, right? Because yeah, Jules is bi.
We get to see him struggle with accepting his identity, with the mere thought of coming out. And it’s handled beautifully. Really, it just shows why it’s so important to have ownvoices books with LGBT characters. They offer a unique kind of understanding that no cishet author will ever give their readers. I’m a little bit overwhelmed with how much I loved the representation in this book. We not only have the bi mc, but there are five gay characters as well – all of them different, all of them sharing with us another coming out & acceptance story. So many voices and all of them honest.
There was this one piece of dialogue that I know will stay with me for a long time and that I’m really happy LGBT kids everywhere will get to read:
“I don’t know how I’ll tell Will.”
“Then don’t,” he whispered. He gently tilted my head so I was facing him. His eyes were wide and insistent. “You don’t owe him that.”
“Don’t I? He told me he was gay.”
He shook his head. “No. You gave him safety. He doesn’t do the same for you.”
It’s not often that we see coming out framed like this. Time and time again it’s actually just shaming a character for not wanting to come out; like it’s easy, like it’s something we owe to the world, like we’re living a lie otherwise. I Knew Him also puts the emphasis on the fact that as long as you came out to yourself, as long as you’re honest with yourself, there is no lie in your life. You’re the person who matters the most here.
I Knew Him does a lot of little, but really major things like this. Like highlighting how important it is for your romantic partner to also be your best friend. Again, not a lot of media out there would make that connection, instead trying to convince you that an Epic Love Story is all that you need. I’m glad we’re finally over those unhealthy archetypes… The book also talks about other aspects of friendships and relationships, of how they change and dissolve, and how it’s normal and not necessarily a bad thing. And most importantly, even with how much light it shines on relationships between people, it never claims that love is what will “cure” you, that every single person needs romantic love to feel whole.
But then, is I Knew Him just a collection of warm, loving sentiments? Is that all there is to it? No, of course not! Like I said, it’s a character driven novel and so all the characters in it are brilliantly fleshed out. It’s a fabulous group of teenagers with very real problems and insecurities, but the adults in it? Amazing as well and will make you cry (at least if your heart is as weak & gay as mine is). Frankly, all of them very fast became my favourites, especially Jules himself.
Obviously, there is some homophobia in the book, because we (still) don’t live in a perfect world. But it’s not there to make you miserable, to break your spirit. Rather, it just shows the struggle with face in everyday life, while still giving some hope to the readers & the characters. It’s not just a gay tragedy porn, like a lot of books by straight authors try to paint someone facing homophobia. I would even venture to say those are somehow turning points for Jules to try and figure out how he wants to live his life.
Ultimately, I Knew Him is an incredibly well written book that feels a little bit like a gift to the LGBT community & all the teens who might not even know they needed to read something like this. It forms this intimate connection with you very quickly, from the first pages basically and doesn’t let you down even once. Not one thing was handled badly here! Just do yourself a favor, guys. Read it.
In his senior year of high school, Julian has one goal: be invisible. All he wants is to study hard, play basketball, and pretend he’s straight for one more year. Then, he can run away to university and finally tell the world he’s bisexual. And by “the world,” he means everyone but his mom and best friend. That’s two conversations he never wants to have.
When he’s talked into auditioning for the school’s production of Hamlet, Julian fears that veering off course will lead to assumptions he’s not ready to face. Despite that, he can’t help but feel a connection to this play. His absent father haunts him like a ghost, his ex is being difficult, and he’s overthinking everything. It’s driving him crazy.
The decision to audition leads Julian on an entirely different path. He’s cast as Hamlet, and the boy playing Horatio is unlike anyone Julian has met before. Mysterious and flirtatious, Sky draws Julian in, even though he fears his feelings at the same time. As the two grow closer, Julian begins to let out the secrets he’s never told—the ones that have paralyzed him for years. But what will he do if Sky feels the same way?
What other books do you know will a well handled bi mc?
Do you think it’s better when LGBT authors write books about LGBT characters or does it not matter to you?