Review: “Cut Both Ways” by Carrie Mesrobian

From Goodreads:

Will Caynes never has been good with girls. At seventeen, he’s still waiting for his first kiss. He’s certainly not expecting it to happen in a drunken make-out session with his best friend, Angus. But it does and now Will’s conflicted—he knows he likes girls, but he didn’t exactly hate kissing a guy.

Then Will meets Brandy, a cute and easy-to-talk-to sophomore. He’s totally into her too—which proves, for sure, that he’s not gay. So why does he keep hooking up with Angus on the 23718736sly?

Will knows he can’t keep seeing both of them, but besides his new job in a diner, being with Brandy and Angus are the best parts of his whole messed-up life. His divorced parents just complicate everything. His father, after many half-baked business ventures and endless house renovations, has started drinking again. And his mom is no help—unless loading him up with a bunch of stuff he doesn’t need plus sticking him with his twin half-sisters counts as parenting. He’s been bouncing between both of them for years, and neither one feels like home.

Deciding who to love, who to choose, where to live. Whichever way Will goes, someone will get hurt. Himself, probably the most.

“But I get like this. Always wanting so much. Feeling greedy. Desperate. I hate it.” — Carrie Mesrobian

That pretty much sums up the book. My work here is done. Bye.

No but really, “Cut Both Ways” is about a boy who exists in a void. He’s caught between places. Between his mother and father’s house. Between high school and whatever’s next. Between childhood and adulthood. Between Brandy and Angus.

I’m glad to know that  these books are being written. Books that feature people who are categorically different from me. I would have been hard-pressed to find a YA book whose main character was a boy—let alone a boy struggling to define his sexuality—on the Staff Recommended shelf when I was 14. We need diverse books! I had these books when I was younger because they would have broadened my world view in a way that I’m just now doing.

That being said, did I love “Cut Both Ways”? Yes, for the most part…

Will Caynes is an excellent narrator. He is dynamic and simultaneously stagnant. And he has a clear idea of who he is in terms of pretty much everything, except his sexuality. I loved being in his head, it felt inarguably real to me. Almost all of the book is his thoughts, interspersed with dialogue and small visual details. It’s the kind of setup where, for it to work, you have to enjoy his mind or sympathize with his struggle. Mesrobian writes in such an affecting way that I had no choice but to feel for Will. Every step of the way, I was on his side. This can be problematic at times, like when he realizes he’s cheating on both Brandy and Angus. Which is messed up, right? Cheating is always messed up, but the difference here is that Will knows this and hates himself for it and as a reader, I was like, dude, cut yourself a break, your situation is more complicated than that. You’re trying to figure it out. I’m even sitting here, and writing that sentence excusing his cheating feels insane to me, but I do believe it for him. That’s just how Mesrobian’s writing works in this book, and it’s really compelling.

I really enjoyed the secondary characters, Brandy, Angus, and his parents, as well. Part of what works about all of them is that they are each essentially good people, even his father, who definitely has some stuff to sort through. They have both good and bad qualities, which complicates things. It would be easier for everyone if they were all complete assholes, but they’re not. That’s why it’s hard for Will to choose one person to be with and one parent to agree with. It’s a great support system for the book, and a kind of rickety one for Will.

I like how carefully Mesrobian treats Will’s confusion. As she says in her author’s note, she never once mentions in the book that Will might be bi, which she says is an intentional example of bisexual erasure (“the willful disbelief that people can be attracted to both genders” (342)). And that’s important because I think it’s probably reflective of many young people’s similar journeys of self-discovery and identification. She says she doesn’t know what Will’s sexuality is and that she thinks it’s less important for her to identify him than it is for her reader’s to contemplate what he is. So I’m like YAAASS, this is great, this is necessary.

The only part of this book that makes me weary is the ending. I’ll just say this — it’s abrupt. When I first finished it, I was pissed. I was like, really. Really, this is how it ends? But with the space of a few days, I think I might like how open-ended it is, but the jury’s still out on that one.

What do you think? Read it and let me know, peeps.

 

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