Review Blog

Aug 02 2018

It looks like this by Rafi Mittlefehldt

cover image

Candlewick Press, 2018. ISBN 9781536200430
(Age: 15+) Recommended. The cover reflects LGTBQ+ themes in one glance - rainbow silhouettes of two youths. Thankfully, neither the title nor the writing defines the narrator and main character. Fifteen year old Mike has a gentle temperament. He has three friends, counting his sister, Toby, and two burgeoning geeks, Jared and Ronald. He is not into sports until a basketball player at his new school invites him to hang out. His father would like to see him on a sports team, but he likes to draw. Interestingly, Mike is largely responsible for the daily well-being of his younger sister and the family dog, all of whom are less enthusiastic about church than their devout parents.
Even though he likes going to church on Sundays about as much as his unruly sister, Mike is resilient and grateful - he doesn't sweat the small stuff, and is just trying to make it through adolescence in the Bible belt, reasonably unscathed. He's an artist - observant of details and mindful. There is a genuine naivety, at least on Mike's part, about his burgeoning friendship with Sean Rossini, the jock, whose parents are members of the same church as his own family. Mittlefehldt draws out Mike's self-discovery so slowly that we could mistake his debut novel to be autobiographical, but in the acknowledgement to his family, we learn that the author was by contrast, tremendously supported by his family.
So what does it look like for Mike and Sean? For one brief moment it looks like the novel's opening sunrise, written by a boy in love for the first time. But very quickly a dysfunctional bully named Victor, uploads a film of the boys making out to YouTube and tips off both dads. Not merely unsupportive, one father is physically abusive and the other sends his son away to a Christian camp where "conversion therapy" is considered a treatment for homosexuality. Thus for the most part, it looks like: secrecy, cyberbullying, public shaming, ostracism and inevitable tragedy. Whose choices were responsible? Not the choice to love and be loved. Indeed, Mrs Pilsner, Ronald's mother, assures Mike, "You did nothing wrong. Ever, in any of this..."
Readers will be drawn to Mike and his inner circle of friends, more so than Sean whose character is not fully developed, making him ostensibly a ghost from the beginning. Despite the modern format and the omission of speech marks, the book will seem anachronistic to those who are savvy about LGTBQ issues, but for those young adults and parents living in peevish backwaters, It looks like this will be serve as both a cautionary tale and a strong indictment of Christian hypocrisy.
Deborah Robins

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