NPR Review: 'I Wish You All The Best,' By Mason DeaverMason Deaver's new young adult novel follows a teenager who's kicked out of their house after coming out as nonbinary. Deaver, who's also nonbinary, says it's the book they needed to read as a kid.
There is a "Dear Reader" in the front of my advance copy of I Wish You All the Best, in which Mason Deaver explains that they are telling the story they needed to read when they were 15 (Deaver uses they/them pronouns). Authors typically say this sort of thing when we write the books of our heart. But the book Deaver needed to read was a particularly important one, one that explored nonbinary gender issues and queer life in a way that was gentle, yet real. I'm pleased to say that they accomplished that goal with flying colors, and the literary world is a better place for it.
The beginning of I Wish You All the Best is nightmarish, without being overtly so. We don't need to see the immediate fallout of Ben De Backer's coming out as nonbinary — witnessing the aftermath of being kicked out of the house at Christmas is difficult enough. The reader's imagination is capable enough of filling in the blanks.
Ben calls upon Hannah, the estranged sister who fled the family home the moment she graduated high school and never looked back. Hannah immediately jumps into action: Securing new clothes and amenities, working hard at using Ben's proper pronouns (they/their), and enrolling them at the local school. Based on the ease with which Hannah takes Ben in, she knows full well the unwelcoming environment that her sibling has left.
Ben spends the first quarter of the book in abject fear, but this is not a horror novel. This is just their life now: discomfort, body dysmorphia, the exhaustion of the "constant coming out," the fear involved in making every single human connection. But there are two bright spots in Ben's darkness. Mariam is Ben's nonbinary support bestie and mentor, though they've only met online. There's also Nathan, the adorable, chatty young man who is given the task of guiding Ben around their new school.
Ben's story is compelling; it flies by, but it's not the easiest read. There is a persistent underlying sense that nothing is safe, either inside Ben's head or out. They cannot trust any space or situation out of hand — they second guess every word spoken and every feeling felt, just in case they aren't "supposed" to feel that way. Everyone asks difficult personal questions that Ben doesn't know the answer to — not only because Ben is still feeling out this world, but also because they're still a teen. Most teenagers don't know the answers to soul-searching questions. Heck, most adults don't, either!
I often bring up a quirky anecdote about how I relate to the main characters of the books I review here, but I can't claim to have experienced anything remotely like what Ben goes through in this book. Ben's story was very much Not About Me. But that doesn't mean this book isn't amazing (it's stellar!) or that a certain audience has no business reading it. Everyone should read it.
I Wish You All the Best not only educated me further on the nonbinary landscape, it inspired within me even more compassion for my friends who have been — and are still — going through similarly difficult transitions. There is tragedy at the heart of this story, but there is also tenderness. Deaver shows us that love, like gender, is fluid and nonbinary.
Alethea Kontis is a voice actress and award-winning author of over 20 books for children and teens.