ARC Review: Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales // the queer Grease retelling that stole my heart

I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.

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SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA meets CLUELESS in this boy-meets-boy spin on Grease

Summer love…gone so fast.

Ollie and Will were meant to be a summer fling—casual, fun, and done. But when Ollie’s aunt’s health takes a turn for the worse and his family decides to stay in North Carolina to take care of her, Ollie lets himself hope this fling can grow to something more. Dreams that are crushed when he sees Will at a school party and finds that the sweet and affectionate (and comfortably queer) guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High.

Will is more than a little shocked to see Ollie the evening of that first day of school. While his summer was spent being very much himself, back at school he’s simply known as one of the varsity basketball guys. Now Will is faced with the biggest challenge of his life: follow his heart and risk his friendships, or stay firmly in the closet and lose what he loves most.

Release date: March 3rd

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★★★★.5✩

I was taken by surprise by this queer Grease retelling, not because I didn’t expect it to be good (it sounded amazing) but because it kept trying to annoy me and it just…didn’t.

Only Mostly Devastated is both a light-hearted romcom and a book that has many heavy themes within it, and the two aspects felt well-balanced and well-researched. With so many delicate themes at hand, there is going to be space for nuance as every reader reacts to each instance according to their own sensibilities and life experiences. To me, there was so much I could see easily going downhill but instead going the opposite way. Comments that were immediately challenged on page, conflict that could’ve been easily dismissed by one character but instead was acknowledged and respected. (Only one thing that I could think of didn’t really leave me satisfied, because the apology came late and wasn’t really an apology but it’s seen as one because of the character’s personality.)

This is not to say it’s all black and white: these are teenagers and they make mistakes and in the process learn to navigate life, and to me that was enough.

If you’ve seen Grease you might already expect how the romance works: summer fling, same school, two groups of friends. Add in the queer element, and the major conflict becomes the fact that Will is deeply closeted. This constitutes one of the heavier aspects of the book, second to the illness plotline, so I wouldn’t call this story fluffy by any means. But to me it felt very real and all in all I feel like Ollie never expected Will to come out for the sake of their relationship, he was fully willing to keep it a secret from everyone while simultaneously rightfully being frustrated by some of the decisions that Will took in order to keep his sexuality safe.

Will’s sexuality is not the only one in question, and there is a secondary sapphic character who gets outed to the whole school and this kind of furthers the narrative in more than one way. This is not something I had thought much about while reading and ultimately I think it was done more for the sake of the Grease retelling than to further the m/m relationship, but I can see how it might not sit well with everyone.

Ollie’s aunt’s terminal illness is the other major aspect that makes this book not the easiest to read. I don’t want to get too personal but I had to force a sense of distance in order to power through the book, and I found Will’s emotions very real and the grief aspect one of the best I’ve ever seen handled in a book. I wasn’t surprised to go on the author’s biography and find out she works as a psychologist, because she really hit all the spots with this story line.

With so much that was ultimately emotionally heavy content, how come I still called this light-hearted? Ollie’s internal monologue was simply a delight, and this is coming from someone who’s finding herself more and more distant from the “contemporary YA 1st POV voice”, but I could simply not care. Was it over the top sometimes? Yes, but I didn’t care. I liked Ollie’s voice and I thought he was highly relatable and funny.

I also loved the friendships in here. I couldn’t immediately understand the girls but once I did I loved their little messy group, and the guys were annoying but ultimately not unredeemable, especially once they got educated.

Speaking of the girls, it’s the first time I see PCOS being talked about in a book, YA especially, and how it affects the girl’s life. It was something I wasn’t expecting and it almost brought me to tears since nobody ever talks about it.

So, I think it’s fair to say I loved this. I would recommend to make sure you check the TWs first in order to be prepared, and even if you’re someone who doesn’t read a lot of YA (in general or anymore) but you’re still curious to try this, I think you won’t regret it.

Rep: gay MC, bisexual Venezuelan LI, female bisexual side character, POC characters, fat character with PCOS

TWs: a character gets outed against their will, terminal illness (cancer), hospitals, fatphobic and fatshaming comments (not immediately challenged), talk of weight loss and dieting, talk of PCOS and its symptoms and how they affect the character’s weight loss/diet, homophobic comments, death of a family member, grief, underage alcohol consumption

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