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The Handsome Girl & Her Beautiful Boy

Review

The Handsome Girl & Her Beautiful Boy

Teenagers are often expected to have a good idea of who they are, who they love, how they love, what they want and how to accomplish it. What a ridiculous expectation! Sure, some might have all of that figured out, but for the most part, these times in our lives are times of growth and learning. We as people are constantly changing, so it only makes sense that those things are as fluid as us. In B.T. Gottfreds’ third novel, THE HANDSOME GIRL AND HER BEAUTIFUL BOY, he explores the fluidity of sexual, gender and general identity.

Everyone thinks Zee is a lesbian. Zee has short hair and likes CrossFit, the Cubs and cargo shorts, so people think, “Clearly…” What they don’t know is that Zee has been in love with her best and only friend, Cam, for years. Unfortunately, Cam is a part of Everyone and can’t see Zee’s true feelings. As though unrequited love and nobody --- maybe even including herself --- truly knowing Zee isn’t hard enough, her mother is terminal and just dropped a huge bomb on Zee that will affect the rest of her life.

Everyone thinks Art is gay. With his love for skincare and clothes, people see this beautiful boy and think they just know. What they don’t know is that he loves to make his own charts and can read anyone like a book. What they also don’t know is that he has fallen madly, deeply in love with Zee upon first sight. Art knows she is special just like him, even if Zee and everyone else can’t see it.

In this novel of identity, Zee and Art discover who they are, because that’s not always very clear, and how they fit together.

"THE HANDSOME GIRL AND HER BEAUTIFUL BOY is a simple read that makes all the sense in the world. It is perhaps one of the most real and relatable books I’ve had the pleasure of reading in recent years."

Zee and Art captured me from the first pages and will never let me go. B.T. Gottfred has written a book with two unique points of view from complex characters who question themselves in many ways, going through a journey that, at face value, may seem unrelatable to a large group of people. Gottfred has written a book that seemingly would be confusing and hard to follow both in its style and content. Instead, THE HANDSOME GIRL AND HER BEAUTIFUL BOY is a simple read that makes all the sense in the world. It is perhaps one of the most real and relatable books I’ve had the pleasure of reading in recent years. This is a book for everyone; anyone who takes the time to read this will have learned something, whether it be about themselves or others.

There are certain things in the book that I have no room to speak on, so I won’t. What I can say, though, is that I felt deeply understood whilst reading this book in ways that other books haven’t even come close to. What is important to remember about all books, but especially ones like this is…well, I’ll just let Art explain it: “Zee and I are not archetypes. We don’t speak for all teenagers. Nor do we speak for all people who share any of our unique traits. We’re one-of-a-kinds just like you. So let my journey be mine, Zee’s be hers, and yours be yours.”

I found myself loving this book more than I ever expected to. THE HANDSOME GIRL AND HER BEAUTIFUL BOY is not only one of my new favorite LGBTQ+ books, but one of my new favorite YA books. Gottfred wrote characters that I couldn’t help but fall in love with. They, like Gottfred’s writing, are quick, clever and unique. Art and Zee are authentic characters, dramatic at times, but what adolescent isn’t? Art is hands down one of my favorite characters I’ve ever met. He is so incredibly special, and I have a hard time imagining people not loving him. He’s a lot, but in the best ways. He’s so full of life, love and hope that it is utterly contagious and I’ve been happier since meeting him. He’s essentially a manic pixie dream boy, but also something entirely new --- Art cannot be classified.

Zee is the perfect balance to Art. She is a realist. Zee is bitter but still vulnerable and you’ll want to protect her as much as you do Art, though she probably wouldn’t let you. I didn’t love her in the same way I loved Art though. I often found myself a bit frustrated with her, but she was written in a way that I could always understand her perspective. They are both characters I love, just in wildly different ways, which is the main point of the book. They will both have special places in my heart, just in very different places.

THE HANDSOME GIRL AND HER BEAUTIFUL BOY is a book that I have wanted for so long but was more than a bit wary about. With topics like sexual and gender identity, there is a lot of ways for the book to turn offensive/harmful, to depict the situation in an inaccurate way, to fall back on harmful clichés and stereotypes. I don’t think that happened here. Of course, I can’t say that for sure, as I couldn’t entirely relate to certain things, but nothing struck me as being obviously harmful to any individuals who could relate to the topics discussed. I do think this is an important book for anyone who has ever questioned who they are and who they love and how they love. For anyone who has ever been made to feel like they’re too much and not enough, this is a book where you can find solace and a sense of solidarity within the pages.

Clearly, I love this book and think it is a highly worthwhile and meaningful read. But, I am not naïve. I recognize that this is the type of book that will probably have a lot of conversation (positive and negative) around it, especially regarding if this is an appropriate book for teenagers. I would not be in the least bit surprised if this becomes a challenged book. As a 17-year-old in 2018, I think THE HANDSOME GIRL AND HER BEAUTIFUL BOY is a wildly important addition to teen literature. The characters are flawed and at times overdramatic, but painfully real. Zee and Art’s particular exploration of self is something that I haven’t read in YA yet, and what a shame that is. In the LGBTQ+ books I’ve read (by no means all of them!), the characters usually already have a good idea of who they are. Art and Zee aren’t entirely sure. They know what they think they want and what they want to want…but then maybe they don’t. I’m sure we’re all aware of this, but adolescence is a confusing, chaotic mess of a time, despite what most YA novels might make you think. Gottfred captured that feeling of uncertainty but never had me as a reader unsure what was happening. There was a lot of potential to get lost in this book if you weren’t someone who could directly relate to the events and feelings, but Zee and Art hold your hand the entire way through.

There are sexual situations and explicit language, making THGAHBB a read for a more mature person. The book is recommended 17+, however, I think someone as young as 15 or even 14 could be okay reading this book. The reality is that in this day in age, teenagers have been exposed to a lot. The majority of the things in this book probably won’t be anything new. Sex and swearing in books and other forms of media is inevitable; it’s what the creator of said content does with it that matters. Gottfred treats the topics with sensitivity and as a way for readers to learn, to broaden themselves and not be afraid of situations that aren’t typically openly talked about. The sex scenes aren’t that graphic and are treated with care. They are far tamer than something in a new adult novel or even in other YA series like A Court of Thorns and Roses. Of course, use your own discretion when picking this book up, the only person that can truly know what they can handle is the person themselves.  This is a book ultimately for anyone but may not be for everyone. 

For fans of books like SIMON VS. THE HOMOSAPIENS AGENDA and RAMONA BLUE but with writing unlike any other, THE HANDSOME GIRL AND HER BEAUTIFUL BOY is an absolute must-read novel of identity, relationships and love in their many forms. Librarians, get a copy or two for circulation. Readers, this is a must-have for your personal collection. THE HANDSOME GIRL AND HER BEAUTIFUL BOY is not a book you want to miss out on.

Reviewed by Olivia W., Teen Board Member on June 28, 2018

The Handsome Girl & Her Beautiful Boy
by B. T. Gottfred