"And just like that, I've kicked the closet door open."
Date Me, Bryson Keller kicks off with a suuuper spontaneous moment where Kai realizes that he's unintentionally, accidentally come out to Bryson. The mechanics of the dare and the students' conversations require some suspension of belief, but you'll get the hang of it. Most importantly: Bryson Keller is proper dreamy. The word 'swoon' was invented for the purpose of describing this fictional boy. He's kind, considerate and super cute. Among my Kindle notes are such gems as "DATE ME BRYSON KELLER!![crying emoji]" and "Bryson Keller Top 10 boyfriends of 2020 --also the only person on the list."
This ownvoices coming-out story feels expressly (and lovingly) written to give hope to queer teenagers. Kevin van Whye (a fellow South African!) depicts the nuances of navigating high school --including some of the spy-level techniques closeted teens use in order live and simultaneously hide their truth. Whether coming out is not a big deal to you, or you're concerned about being labeled 'the gay one', whether you're unsure of your safety if outed, or you're questioning your sexuality for the first time --there is a place in this story for you. This cover-all-bases approach, however, meant that some bits read more like a lecture set on presenting an all-inclusive gay teen experience than a narrative from one teenage boy's perspective.
I really loved this moment where Bryson acknowledges how his view of the world has opened up since spending time with Kai: "Even when you like someone, you can't just outright show them. Everything has to be subtle. Or announced. There's, like, no middle ground. You're either in the closet or you have to announce that you're gay and dating. You can't just do it. It's such bullshit."
I was disappointed that there is no real exploration of a concept outside of 'gay or not gay', and frustrated that Kai is outed twice in this story, but I did not find the darker moments of betrayal as crushing and infuriating as, for example, the Love, Simon movie (which I have still not forgiven). There's a heartbreaking heaviness when Kai's parents react as he imagined they would. But! Bryson's sister has the loveliest reaction to seeing them together, Kai's best friends are all-in already, and Kai's sister Yazz is fiercely supportive of him. She plays an integral part in his parents coming to the right place, and also created a gay superhero comic inspired by her brother.
Date Me, Bryson Keller deals with serious issues that hit hard, but the book's ending still leaves you caught up in the sweetness of their romance. The absolute swoon-worthiness of moments all over this book make the difficult times totally worth it. When things feel bright for Kai and Bryson, Kevin van Whye gives the reader hope, wherever they may be on their coming-out journey, for the joy and weightlessness that comes with finally being out, and the lasting knowledge that they are not alone.
Andrea received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.
Content warnings: bullying, homophobia, underage drinking, blackmail and threats to out them, public outing, altercations leading to bruised faces. Kai's religious parents react badly to his coming out (but they come around), discussion of Bryson's dad's infidelity, side character in a car accident (minor injuries).
Editor's Note: There's been some discussion on Goodreads about the book. Andrea wrote this review and then saw an update on the Goodreads page, where people are saying the plot is exactly like the manga series Seven Days (March 2020) and he responds to those comments in this blogpost (from 2019). I'm seeing this as not much different from 1,000 retellings of You've Got Mail, Pride & Prejudice, etc, but we're including links so you can make up your own mind.