Review: It Looks Like This by Rafi Mittlefehldt

It Looks Like This by Rafi MittlefehldtIt Looks Like This
Rafi Mittlefehldt
Candlewick Press
Published September 6, 2016

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

About It Looks Like This
A new state, a new city, a new high school. Mike’s father has already found a new evangelical church for the family to attend, even if Mike and his plainspoken little sister, Toby, don’t want to go. Dad wants Mike to ditch art for sports, to toughen up, but there’s something uneasy behind his demands.

Then Mike meets Sean, the new kid, and “hey” becomes games of basketball, partnering on a French project, hanging out after school. A night at the beach. The fierce colors of sunrise. But Mike’s father is always watching. And so is Victor from school, cell phone in hand.

It Looks Like This on AmazonMy Review
I devoured this book in a single sitting. The inside front flap warned me that it would be a heartbreaking read (which meant that before I started, I flipped to the back and read the last chapter, because I’m a total pansy for this stuff, and I need some warning if an author is going to make me fall head over heels for someone and then suddenly/tragically kill them off.) Spoiler: it’s a heartbreaking read. More spoiler: but it’s also got a huge amount of justice in its conclusion.

Emotionally, I feel like to call this one a roller coaster doesn’t even cover it. Someone once described my review content notes as “potential triggers” for readers, a sentiment that I really like, and reading this book made me realize I have a lot of my own triggers that don’t always make it into the list below (and don’t always need to).

I felt a connection with the kind of community where Mike lived in Virginia. It reminded me of my own small southern town, and even though my experience growing up in church felt very different than what Mike experienced, it made me revisit those days and think about the friends I had who struggled to make the same kind of spiritual connection and felt like outsiders in the midst of those services and events. I don’t think I was really sympathetic or aware of what they were experiencing, to be honest, and I hate that, but I feel like it’s important to realize it now, so I can behave differently.

Mike’s dad puts a lot of pressure on him to act in certain ways—it’s clear he’s very concerned about his son’s interests and masculinity, and Mike tries like crazy to please his dad. When his dad finds out that Mike’s been in a relationship with another boy, he sends Mike to InnerPeace, a Christian camp for teens who’ve had gay urges or experiences.

So, conversion therapy.

We see, from Mike’s point-of-view, what this is like and how much more pressure it is, how ineffective it is in terms of changing his feelings, how damaging it could be if he stayed there. Mike’s friend’s mom harshly criticizes his parents for sending Mike there and for their feelings of shame about their son.

On the one hand, the story doesn’t shy away from strong statements and some preachiness. On the other hand, it’s Mike’s internal experience which makes those moments powerful and meaningful. I also really liked the emphasis on Mike’s artistic ability and the way he used art to convey what was meaningful to him, things he struggled to put into words.

I talked about the story having a lot of justice in its conclusion. It’s not a perfect ending. Remember: heartbreak. But in other ways, things go very right. Mike’s mom, who spends much of the story being a bit of a doormat, becomes Mike’s advocate and strongly supports him. He gets good counsel from a therapist, which motivates him to challenge the people who’d been crushing him. A bully who’d been picking on Mike apologizes and seems deeply genuine.

I wish It Looks Like This didn’t have the graphic sexual content and the depiction of kids drinking alcohol that it does. I know, kids do it, even as young as Mike is (he’s fourteen for most of the story). But I find content like that narrows the audience a bit and makes it harder to recommend the story, especially to younger readers. The emotional journey is incredibly compelling, and the characters realistic and moving.

Be warned– the story doesn’t use a lot of quotation marks for dialogue. It’s a style thing, but it seemed to bother some of the other reviewers I’ve seen who posted about this book. I didn’t find it bothersome, but I know some people do.

It Looks Like This on GoodreadsRecommended for Ages 14 up.

Cultural Elements
Sean’s mom is black and his dad is white. Mike’s other friends are white. He describes Victor as naturally tanned. Mike and Sean are both gay.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Mike is keenly aware of his proximity to Sean, and doesn’t at first recognize his feelings for attraction. In one scene, Mike draws Sean, and becomes embarrassed when Sean makes a joke about how he should have posed nude. The boys swim naked in the ocean. In a couple of scenes, they kiss and touch each other. In one scene, one of Mike’s friends confesses that he looks at porn, though he believes it’s a sin and doesn’t want to do it. Later, he shows Mike a couple pages of a magazine he’s hiding in his room, showing a man and woman having sex.

Spiritual Content
Mike’s family attends church regularly. His parents seem pretty committed and like it’s a meaningful experience, though it’s hard to say whether Mike’s dad is more concerned about himself and his family having a good appearance in the church community. Mike and his sister hate going.

When Mike’s parents realize he’s gay, they send him to a Christian camp to deal with his feelings. It’s clear the goal of the camp is for Mike to come home straight. There are a couple of preachy moments where others at camp recite information or reasons against homosexual behavior. For Mike, the experience feels much less about any sort of spirituality and more about pleasing those in authority around him, the same issue he faces at home.

Violent Content
Mike and his friends play Halo together. There are some descriptions of players killing other players. A boy at school repeatedly slams his shoulder into Mike as he walks past. A man punches a teenager and drags him away. One of Mike’s friends tells Mike he punched the boy who was bullying him.

Drug Content
Sean offers Mike beer, and they drink together at his house. Later they drink some wine together. See spoilers below for other information.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SPOILER

A local boy is killed in a drunk driving accident after he drinks eight beers and gets behind the wheel of his car.

 

 

 

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About Kasey Giard

Kasey is a mother, reader and aspiring author. When she's not reading or writing, you might find her out on the water fly fishing, pretending she can keep houseplants alive, or talking with the family rescue cat.
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