Book Review: Can’t Take That Away

Can’t Take That Away by Steven Salvatore

🌺🌺🌺🌺🌺/5

Trigger Warning: Assault, Misgendering, Homophobia, Transphobia, Car Accident, Family Death

Respect My Existence or Expect My Resistance

Carey Parker dreams of being a diva. They have the talent. They have the voice. But they’re scared—of rejection, of homophobic and transphobic assholes—and they are dealing with a lot at home, with their grandmother’s worsening dementia. Then they meet Cris, and their world opens. Inspired to try out for the lead role in Wicked, Carey auditions and nails the role of Elphaba. But instead of cheers, they are met with a homophobic teacher and a corps of conservative parents unwilling to accept a genderqueer teen in a “girl” role. But Carey and their friends refuse to be silenced.

This was incredible.

Despite those incredibly heavy trigger warnings, this was entirely wholesome and heavenly and I was 100% crying tears of joy through most of it. However, definitely don’t step into this one lightly.

Carey was a fantastic main character, filled with courage and hope and fears and scars and everything else (in addition to the holy hell that is high school). After a really awful prom experience and locker room attack by their tormentor, Carey is struggling with the aftereffects of their coming out—and the way their former best friend Joey doesn’t want to hang out anymore.

I did love the support structure, although in the beginning my eyes were narrowed at Mr. Kelly, the ever-so-supportive English teacher (and also newspaper and musical person), because usually this sets up a really not-so-fantastic interaction of predatory behavior. BUT I am happy to note (and hopefully relieve any fears) that Mr. Kelly is absolutely perfect and supportive and crosses no boundaries, despite some initial periods that felt like grooming to me (they were not at all that, my mind just…goes there, for reasons).

While I was lukewarm towards Cris, who felt like more of a poster cut-out of hormones instead of a real, live boy, I was happy for the bi rep, but I really, really wanted more page time of Joey and Monroe, and also Phoebe Wright and Blanca! More, more, more! And especially more of Joey, who weirdly felt more real to me than anyone else in the book, despite having not so much page time.

Less discrimination is not acceptable. There needs to be zero discrimination.

I liked how the book handled activism and doing what’s right. It was a really, really realistic portrayal of organizing a protest and a movement (and damn these kids are phenomenal—but also realistic, because after the Parkland shooting those kids did something similar on a much larger scale), and how to do a peaceful movement (and acknowledge the privilege of having police be on your side instead of tear-gassing you for protesting while Black).

While the principal’s reaction was really, really skeezy, it was…honestly pretty typical. And disappointing, and revealing in her own privilege in being able to think that just a little discrimination is acceptable, when it is not.

Because as Carey noted, one Max or one Mr. Jackson can ruin a teenager’s life.

Because while it can take an entire community to help build someone up and support them, it only takes one committed asshole to bring that crashing down.

Anywho, I really enjoyed this, and I loved the chapters, which were titled by pronouns so the reader did not accidentally misgender Carey.

Wait—I just realized I forgot to mention Carey is genderqueer (as is the author). This is an ownvoices book, and it is fantastic!

Also, you learn a lot about Mariah Carey, because Mariah is Carey’s idol and coping mechanism.

I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review

Can’t Take That Away released March 9, 2021, from Bloomsbury

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