Thursday, July 09, 2015

"Can't We Be Friends?" You Me and Him by Kris Dinnison

Nash sinks into his seat and motions for me to do the same. "What are we going to do about Tom?" he whispers.

"Hmmm," I said. "So you really do think Kayla is a threat?"

"Oh, Mags, pu-lease!" Nash says.  "She's been stalking the guy since noon on the first day of school."

"Well, we can't have that." I say. "He's kind of the innocent bystander here. He comes to this school, the odd couple latches on to him before he even gets in the door--"

"I prefer "unique.'"

"Anyway, the poor guy gets caught up in the very confusing politics of our brand of friendship through no fault of his own."

"Not entirely true," Nash interrupts. "If he weren't so appealing in every single way, this never would have happened."

Maggie is the class fat girl, and Nash is the gay guy, and they have been close friends since childhood. But if two's company, three's a crowd. When Tom appears at their small time high school, outsiders Maggie and Nash take the new guy under their wings. A military brat who's been the new kid many times, Tom may be an outsider at Cedar Falls High, but he is handsome and has a charming way about him developed through repeatedly finding a place at many new schools. Nash is quite taken with him and calls first dibs on him as a possible boyfriend, and Maggie loyally goes along, keeping her attraction to Tom to herself.

Other girls do not, particularly slim and pretty Kayla, who clearly uses her long-dead friendship with Maggie to meet Tom and ensure Nash's anxiety over her as a rival.

But it is Maggie whom Tom seems to prefer for company. When Maggie pinch hits for Nash for the tour of his favorite places in Seattle, Tom is a great companion, and Maggie invites him along to show him her favorite hiking trail. They have fun together, but when a laugh together turns into a long kiss, Maggie finds herself in the middle of a unique Venn triangle intersection. She admits she is very attracted to Tom, but then there is her loyalty to her soul mate, Nash. And when Kayla hears about that kiss, she spreads the gossip as fast as she can. Nash is crushed, and Kayla makes her move to fill the vacuum with Tom. And Nash turns his anger on Maggie.

"Nash, Tom is not your someone." I say.

"Thanks to you!" Nash says.

"Tom's not gay, Nash. He's not gay, he's not bi, he's not even bi-curious. He thinks you are a wonderful person, but he will never be your boyfriend. And I'm not one for Tom either. He was pretty clear about that."

Kris Dinnison's just published You and Me and Him (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) gives us a different sort of teen love triangle, with a strong, complex character in its narrator, Maggie, and very real characters as supporting cast. Although Maggie's mom's advice is mostly about how to lose weight, she does have an older, wiser mentor in her boss, Quinn, at the vintage record shop.

Billie is singing "Glad to Be Unhappy," weaving her spell over the store's speakers.

Quinn switches Billie out and a classical tune--Mozart, I think--comes over the speakers.

"Hey," I say. "I was listening to that."

"Stop it, Maggie. Enough Billie. Enough wallowing." Quinn whispers, "Stop hiding."

And with a literary soundtrack of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald in the background, Maggie works her way through a tangle of emotions in a different sort of realistic romance novel for young adult readers, one that doesn't end with sudden weight loss or a final embrace with Billie singing "Body and Soul" as the music swells over the credits. Rather, an experienced and stronger Maggie moves on. Or as Billie would wryly add, "God Bless the Child Who's Got Her Own."

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