Book Review: Not Quite Out by Louise Willingham

I preordered Not Quite Out a little while ago greatly excited to read it. I read it in a day. I just wanted Daniel to be ok. I wanted to hug Will for caring so much and wanted to take away his hesitancy around his identity. I wanted to go and have a drink with Peter and Cass. I really, really wanted these flawed and lovely characters to find a happy ending. Although I have no personal experience of the challenges these characters are facing, I felt like the way Willingham draws their interactions holds a really important message about tackling ‘taboos’ head on. So often, we don’t ask the important questions because they make us uncomfortable. And that discomfort can be so damaging in so many ways. 

These were my thoughts a third of the way through this book. I stand by them. But. I also have some concerns. Spoilers ahead.

Will’s response to and feelings for Daniel are very intense very quickly. At first, I read this as the initial flush of love/lust, which – especially as a teenager – IS intense and all consuming. However, as the story continued it becomes clear that the degree of Will’s obsession is unhealthy and impacts negatively on his other relationships. He neglects his friends and can’t seem to bring himself to be open with them, even though they offer him assurances of love and generous space to do so. Part of this is down to his reluctance to come out as bisexual. Being surrounded by a wealth of supportive friends within an active LGBTQ+ society this reluctance seems a little jarring BUT I can totally appreciate the difference between knowing, logically, that you will be accepted and BELIEVING it – or believing yourself worthy of it. Will seems to continually isolate himself and I don’t think there’s much exploration of why that is – all his energy is focused on helping (or ‘fixing’) other people. What starts out as an endearing concern and care for others becomes concerning as the story progresses.

I really loved Daniel’s character and I found his gentleness, despite the violence he has faced, beautiful. My biggest concern with his character was the portrayal of him as a recovering heroin addict – there was very little that spoke to the trauma of withdrawal and even his decision to stop using felt like it just a simple ‘choice’. It made this aspect of his character feel inauthentic. I was left feeling uncomfortable at such a light portrayal of such a serious issue. (Will is also constantly offering Dan painkillers which I’m pretty sure is not a helpful thing to be doing to a recovering drug addict.)

Self harm and abortion are also included in a somewhat throwaway manner, with self harm intimated almost in passing and abortion given a few, traumatic pages before being forgotten. I felt like these things either needed to be given more space and exploration or to have not been included. It felt like the author was trying to touch on too many things in not enough pages to do them justice.

There were things that I really liked about this book. I thought Peter, Cass and Daniel were all great characters – I just would have liked to learn more about them. I like the underlying challenge to our tendency to avoid ‘uncomfortable’ questions and I like the author’s exploration of a different coming out experience. And I was invested enough in the characters to read it in one day. I appreciate what the author was attempting with this story. But, if you choose to read it, do so with caution and awareness that some of the themes, issues and experiences are presented superficially or inaccurately.

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