If you asked anyone in his small Vermont town, they’d tell you the facts: James Liddell, star athlete, decent student and sort-of boyfriend to cute, peppy Theresa, is a happy, funny, carefree guy.
But whenever James sits down at his desk to write, he tells a different story. As he fills his drawers with letters to the people in his world—letters he never intends to send—he spills the truth: he’s trying hard, but he just isn’t into Theresa. It’s a boy who lingers in his thoughts.
He feels trapped by his parents, his teammates, and the lies they’ve helped him tell, and he has no idea how to escape. Is he destined to live a life of fiction?
True Letters from a Fictional Life
Rating: 4/5 🌈
Published: 7th June 2016
Rep: gay mc (potentially ownvoices)
I didn’t come up with the lie. It wasn’t mine. They handed the lie to me, and I tried like hell to make it work for a while.
True Letters from a Fictional Life is one of those books that leaves you feeling known in experiencing same-gender attraction. It’s one of those ones that just gets it. The feeling, the fears that come with it, everything. It’s less a romance and more one of those coming of age novels that straight readers get thousands of, and you only get one or two where nothing awful happens.
In True Letters, we meet James, a star athlete who has a secret. He’s trying his hardest to conform to what people expect of him – he does okay at school, he has a girlfriend – but little pieces of him start to spill over into the letters he writes, but never sends. Letters where he isn’t afraid to hide the truth. Letters to his family, his sort-of girlfriend, his best friend who he has a crush on.
One of the things I loved about this book was actually how much of a non-event the coming-out scenes were. Yes, there was a homophobic character, but he was kind of a dick from the start so you could recognise that. But when James came out to his best friends, and to his family, it was so gentle and balanced between making you cry but also warming you up on the inside (one of my absolute favourite parts of this book, maybe of any book, was the scene where James came out to his older brother). Sometimes, I feel like coming out scenes are used as a source of angst for the protagonist – like no LGBT person knows that that’s sometimes how real life goes and actually we want a safe place in fiction, thank you very much! – but it definitely wasn’t here.
I also loved James’ character growth throughout the book. He starts off closeted, with internalised homophobia in there to boot, but he grows and he learns and he makes new friends, and God, there is just something so beautiful about books where LGBT characters go through that process. Even more so when it’s ownvoices, because it’s so much more raw and real. Yes, straight authors can sometimes get an echo of what it’s like in their writing, but it’ll never be quite there. I loved James’ character arc in this book, and his relationships with the rest of the characters, particularly his brothers (I mentioned how his coming out to his older brother was my favourite scene, but his coming out scene to his younger brother damn near broke my heart).
If I had to compare this book to any one, just to get you to read it, I think I’d say it’s a bit like Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda – but if Simon vs. was ownvoices, and without the mess that is Simon getting outed – mixed in with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. It’s not perfect, sure, but it’s definitely one of those books that I’ll come back to time and time again.