Always the Almost
Published February 7, 2023
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About Always the Almost
A trans pianist makes a New Year’s resolution on a frozen Wisconsin night to win regionals and win back his ex, but a new boy complicates things in Edward Underhill’s heartfelt debut YA rom-dram, ALWAYS THE ALMOST.
Sixteen-year-old trans boy Miles Jacobson has two New Year’s resolutions: 1) win back his ex-boyfriend (and star of the football team) Shane McIntyre, and 2) finally beat his slimy arch-nemesis at the Midwest’s biggest classical piano competition. But that’s not going to be so easy. For one thing, Shane broke up with Miles two weeks after Miles came out as trans, and now Shane’s stubbornly ignoring him, even when they literally bump into each other. Plus, Miles’ new, slightly terrifying piano teacher keeps telling him that he’s playing like he “doesn’t know who he is”—whatever that means.
Then Miles meets the new boy in town, Eric Mendez, a proudly queer cartoonist from Seattle who asks his pronouns, cares about art as much as he does—and makes his stomach flutter. Not what he needs to be focusing on right now. But after Eric and Miles pretend to date so they can score an invite to a couples-only Valentine’s party, the ruse turns real with a kiss, which is also definitely not in the plan. If only Miles could figure out why Eric likes him so much. After all, it’s not like he’s cool or confident or comfortable in his own skin. He’s not even good enough at piano to get his fellow competitors to respect him, especially now, as Miles. Nothing’s ever been as easy for him as for other people—other boys. He’s only ever been almost enough.
So why, when he’s with Eric, does it feel like the only person he’s ever really not been enough for…is himself?
Miles is preparing for a classical piano competition, so he plays the piano in lots of scenes. I really enjoyed the descriptions of his relationship with music and his process of practicing, learning, and growing as a musician. I loved Stefanie, his piano teacher, too.
Though he doesn’t have a lot of confidence in his identity, Miles has a solid friend group who do. Rachel, Paige, and Eric support him as friends and allies. Sometimes they can be a little much– especially Rachel– but it’s clear that their behavior always comes from a place of love.
ALWAYS THE ALMOST doesn’t shy away from the painful parts of personal growth. Miles makes some thoughtless and selfish choices and then has to bear consequences of those mistakes as well as learning how to rebuild relationships in the aftermath. I thought overall those conflicts were handled really well and resolved in ways that were both believable and satisfying.
On the whole, Miles’s journey as a young trans boy in love and his development as a musician were both super strong parts of ALWAYS THE ALMOST. I think readers who enjoyed CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY by Steven Salvatore will want to check this one out.
Recommended for Ages 12 up.
Miles is a transgender boy. Eric is pansexual and biracial. Rachel and Paige are lesbians.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat frequently.
Kissing between two girls. Kissing between two boys. Miles and his boyfriend take their tops off at one point.
Miles stumbles onto some transphobic comments about him on an online forum. Vague reference to a woman experiencing unwanted sexual advances at work and a man punishing her in her career because she refused him.
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