CW’s: Homophobia + slurs, Child Abuse
Life and love don’t wait until you’re ready, but what if finding yourself means losing everything you’ve ever known?
Seventeen-year-old Alex Summers lives with a secret and the constant fear someone will find out. But when a new family moves to town, they bring with them their teenage daughter Phoenix Stone. When Alex falls for Phoenix, there is no warning. In a small town with small minds, girls don’t go out with other girls, even if they want to.
In fear there is bravery – you can either cling to the edge or have the courage to jump. But what do you do when you’re left spiralling through the freefall?
Thank you to Netgalley & Pantera Press for providing me with a digital Arc in exchange for an honest Review!
I have very conflicted feelings about this one. On the one side it was great to see more f/f couples in YA, there is still a huge lack of them, so I was glad that I had the chance to read If I Tell You. On the other side this book contained a few problematic tropes and I wasn’t happy with a lot of things. Generally, I feel like I have to say that this book is not what it seems. If I Tell You is NOT a fluffy read like the cover might suggest and what I originally thought. Of course the synopsis informs us that this book is about homophobia in a small town, so I excepted conflict, but this book was a lot darker beyond that. Homophobia is very prevalent as are slurs so this is a very heavy book to read. I think it’s important to know this going into this book, so I wanted to quickly mention it here.
I wanted to give this 3 stars so badly, but after writing my Review I was comparing my likes vs. dislikes list, I’m reminded of how many problems I had with this book. I cannot say that I really enjoyed it and would even consider reading it again. Therefore, I’m ending up giving this 2.5 stars
Of course I cannot speak on the representation here, so I’m including two great Reviews, that manage to say perfectly what I was feeling with this book as well. Both girls gladly let me include their Reviews when I asked, so thank you so much for that!
What I liked
📚 I really felt for Alex. She is a closeted lesbian, because her mother is very conservative and strict. Her mom always finds flaws with her daughter and is very critical of her, as Alex isn’t who she wants her to be. It was easy to like Alex, because you really feel for her situations and struggles that she faces. I was very angry at her mother, since she made Alex feel very self-conscious and put her down constantly. Alex is afraid to even be seen with the new girl Phoenix, who is out as a lesbian from the beginning, because her mother sees this as shameful. You can imagine what happens when she finds out that her own daughter is a lesbian. Generally I wanted to give Alex a big hug, because everyone was pretty horrible to her. She’s such a nice person and I loved that we saw her passion for music!
📚 The romance was cute. I had a few problems with the romance, but I cannot deny that it was cute and that I was rooting for Phoenix and Alex the entire time. I was glad to finally see a f/f couple in YA and I was invested in their relationship. There is a lot of conflict and angst with these two of course, since they do live in a very conservative small town and Phoenix faces a lot of homophobic slurs and violence.
📚 I really liked Lin and her friendship with Alex. You know that I’m all here for girls supporting girls and being friends, so I was glad to see that we got it here. Lin was very different from Alex, but I liked the dynamic they had and how their friendship also developed throughout the book. It’s also worth mentioning that Lin is Vietnamese, but since the rep isn’t ownvoices I don’t know how accurate this portrayal was!
📚 Alex music teacher was the best. I wish that he had adopted Alex, because he was so supportive all the time and really cared about her, her music and her dreams. Among his fellow teacher, he’s very accepting and it’s really hard to dislike him. You just end up loving him, because he’s exactly the teacher you would want to be friends with.
What I had problems with
📚 Phoenix was very pushy at times. Generally I felt like she was portrayed a bit too perfect by Alex and that led to her feeling a bit like the manic pixie dream girl trope, which was a thing that bothered me a bit. What bothered me way more was how pushy Phoenix could be. I don’t like pushy people, because nothing is worse than someone else pressuring into doing something you a) don’t want to do or b) are not ready to do. Phoenix did that to Alex a lot, she pushed her to pursue her music despite it being a risk and wanted to force her to do things Alex wasn’t ready for e.g. sining and playing in public. Another scene I high disliked was where Phoenix wanted to force her to go sky diving (or something like that) and Alex was not ready for that. She felt pressured and didn’t want to do this, Alex even called out her love interest for pushing her like that. BUT then in the end she was like ‘oh no, I have to do it, Phoenix was right’ which frustrated me so much, as it sends the message that it’s okay to pressure someone up until the point that they finally give in, which is NOT right.
📚 Phoenix didn’t really acknowledge her privilege. This happened in two cases. First when the girls talk about their dreams for the future and Alex said that she cannot follow her dream of having a music career since she does not have enough money to tak that risk. Her family is not supportive and Alex knows that once her mother finds out she is a lesbian, she cannot rely on any kind of help any longer. However, Phoenix scoffs at her and says that everyone can take a risk and should follow their dreams no matter how much money they have. What bothers me is that Phoenix has money and a lot of privilege, but she acts like it doesn’t matter when it does. She literally says that anyone can go to Amsterdam for a year … and like NO. You cannot if you don’t have money!! If you have no help from your parents, if thy cannot help you because they don#t hav enough, most people have to quit adventures and focus on getting a job or a degree so they can manage to. Phoenix didn’t get tat at all. It also bothered me how Phoenix pushed Alex to come out when she knew that Alex was in a very bad situation at home. It’s pretty clear that Alex’ mom will take her coming out very badly and that it will put Alex safety at risk. Phoenix herself has supportive parents and doesn’t get that Alex is in da ger if she comes out. She makes it all about herself and frames it like Alex has to come out at any cost otherwise, she doesn’t want her. It was so messed up, because in the end it happens exactly as Alex feared it would, she gets beaten by her mother and thrown out.
📚 The romance was a bit rushed. I don’t want to say insta-love, but the second Phoenix walked into the store Alex works in, Alex was smitten and couldn’t stop thinking about the new girl. I would have wished for a bit more build up and Alex slowly developing deeper feelings, because here it felt like she was idealizing Phoenix a lot and making her out to be her perfect dream girl.
📚 I hated Justin and how the book didn’t call him out. Justin is your resident fuckboy, he believes Alex has to put him first and is generally racist, homophobic, sexist … you get the picture. For some reason he is still Alex best friend and throughout the book he continued to act bratty and annoying when Alex befriends Phoenix brother and generally shows interest in anything other than himself. What Alex knows but never wanted to deal with is that Justin is in love with her since forever. The thing is that she’s a lesbian, but not out, so that’s not what she can tell him. Later she reveals it, but of course Justin acts horribly and makes it all about himself and his unrequited crush. But like … what did he expect? Alex doesn’t own him an explanation. She’s not in live with him and he has to live with that! He literally said at one point that it would be best to euthanize gay people … I have no words for how much I hated Justin. Later of course, he grows and accepts Alex – I still hate him – but another thing bothered me as well. It’s portrayed as if Alex owes him something, just because he is in love with her and that’s so wrong. The narrative never called him out when he kissed her against her consent and blamed her, because she didn’t share his feelings. Justin thinks he’s entitled to her, because he has a crush and it’s a sickening notion that society in generally has about relationships. I hated that no one called it out here. Friends of Alex even had the nerve to say that Justin was a good guy (again, he said he wanted to kill everyone who’s not the norm), when he was clearly not. His sister even said that Alex belonged to him, because he loved her and THAT is WRONG. Alex does not belong to Justin, because he loves her, she owes him no explanation, because she is her own person and her coming out is not something Justin should make about himself.
📚 I had huge problems with the ableist plot twist and another trope. This falls under spoilers, so I’m going to put this under my makeshift spoiler Tag.
Just click the arrow if you want to see the spoilers!
I hated how Phoenix illness was used as a plot twist. We don’t know until towards the end of the book that she has a terminal disease and it bothered me that the author didn’t make this clear from the beginning. Why use terminal illness for shock value? It is making me incredibly uncomfortable. It gets even more ableist as Phoenix dies in the end and Alex happily has her ending. Phoenix and her illness is literally used as a factor for further Alex storyline and it makes me sick. All the times Phoenix was so pushy? She was trying to get Alex to enjoy live because her own time was running out. I hate this narrative treating sick people as objects that can further another person.
Then there was the Bury Your Gays Trope, as Phoenix dies at the end of the book. So this books is written by a lesbian author and I didn’t expect her to actually utilise this trope, something a lot of readers won’t see coming as well. I was very surprised and disappointed that the author actually used this trope, because I didn’t see why it had to end this way. The ending generally felt rushed and Phoenix was shoved so quickly out of the picture.
IN CONCLUSION: I’m glad If I Tell You exists as it’s a f/ f romance in YA, which is something that still doesn’t happen nearly enough in publishing. Despite liking the main character and feeling her struggles, I had a lot of problems with the book. The love interest was incredibly pushy and didn’t acknowledge her privilege. There was an ableist plot twist and another harmful trope that let to hindering my enjoyment of the book.
Have you read If I Tell You? What is your favorite f/f couple? 📚