Like A Love Story follows a trio of teens in New York at the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Reza is newly arrive to the US from Toronto, and has a new stepfather and stepbrother. He's gay but struggling to come to terms with this, especially as he's fearful of HIV.
He meets a boy he immediately falls for, Art - an out and proud teen who's keen to join in protests advocating for better treatment for AIDS victims alongside his best friend Judy's uncle Stephen, who has the disease himself. But in turn, Judy falls for Reza and he tries to make a relationship with her work, despite his chemistry with Art.
I stumbled on this having read a summary online, but without seeing any reviews. Despite expecting the topic to be a moving one, I'm not sure anything could have prepared me for just what an emotional read this was - Abdi Nazemian creates an incredibly strong quartet of central characters (the three teens and Stephen, with narration split between the trio and a set of note cards about gay culture written by Stephen.)
The voices of all three are stunning, and very different. Reza is a sweet guy with internalised homophobia who's desperately trying to do what he considers to be the right thing; Art is justly furious at society, and his parents, for the lack of effort people are putting into trying to find treatment for AIDS, and Judy is staunchly supportive of her uncle; the loving bond between them is excellent.
The 80s setting is brilliantly described, bringing to life the climate of fear for HIV and AIDS-sufferers at the time, but also showing the supportive network Stephen has around him and the way the older people look out for the teens. (And the influence that Madonna has, as a gay culture icon who all three teens find inspiration from, is perfect!) I thought the families issues were exceptionally well-described here, with Reza's stepfather being a particularly interesting character and his brilliant but rebellious older sister having a great relationship with him.
It's a real tearjerker - the only book so far this year to make me cry hard - which never downplays the awfulness of Stephen's situation, and which shows the hard fight that LGBTQ+ people have always had to go through to get the freedoms they deserve, but it's an ultimately hopeful novel, which looks at friendship, forgiveness, romance and grief.
A new favourite contemporary for me, this is one I'll be recommending a LOT and makes Abdi Nazemian an auto-buy author.
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