Will Caynes has a fairly complicated life. Thanks to his divorced parents, he spends his time shuffling between the city and the suburbs of Minneapolis. His father is drinking again while sort of aimlessly renovating his old house, and his mom has a new family in the suburbs and seems to think that buying things is the same thing as parenting. When Will meets Brandy, a sophomore girl he finds surprisingly easy to talk to, he can’t believe his luck. The two start to see each other, but there’s a complication: Will and his best friend Angus, who is openly gay, have been hooking up on the sly. Will is attracted to both of them, and he cares for them both, too. So what does that make him?
Carrie Mesrobian’s latest offering for teens is a knockout of a novel. Mesrobian is a master at capturing the authenticity of being a teenager, and in her latest offering, that is on full display. With Cut Both Ways, Mesrobian offers her teen readers a thoughtful, nuanced look at bisexuality while also delivering a super complex, smart novel about growing up and facing life’s hardest truths. This is a phenomenal book that deserves a place on library shelves all over the country.
The novel is fearless in its exploration of complicated, messy topics. It approaches the subjects of sex and sexual identity without shame, and is unapologetic in its frankness. Although Will never actually uses the word “bisexual” to describe himself, it is clear he is struggling with his sexuality and what it means, not only to him but to the people he cares about. Mesrobian allows for the teens in her novel to have authentic sexual experiences and writes about these interactions in ways that are funny, moving, and sometimes a little awkward. It is clear that she has enormous respect for both her characters and her teen readers.
Although the novel has several very dramatic moments, Mesrobian keeps such tight control of her narrative that these events never feel overly-sensationalized. Will’s narration has just the right of emotional distance to help readers understand how worn out he is by playing the middleman in his parents’ divorce, and this same apathy plays out in his relationships with both Brandy and Angus. This is an intense read, but it’s also intensely satisfying.
Highly, highly recommended. One of the best books of the year. A must-read for older teens who like their YA realistic and complex.
Cut Both Ways by Carrie Mesrobian. HarperCollins: 2015. Electronic galley accepted for review via Edelweiss.