Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich, If This Gets Out, Hachette Australia, December 2021, 288 pp., RRP $17.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781444963793
In a peak year for queer teen fiction, If This Gets Out, is a perfect way to end 2021. This collaboration of authors, (Gonzales writes as Rueben and Dietrich is Zach) works extremely well. They are clearly matched in vision and characterisation because the story flows seamlessly between the two points of view.
Two parts of a four-member boyband, Rueben and Zach have been best mates since the inception of Saturday back when they were only 15. Now turning 18, the band is struggling with what we as audiences recognise as standard obstacles: too much touring, too much publicity, too much micro-managing, and not enough space or time to develop into their own selves.
This aspect of the plot is well realised. We are given a lot of time to see how not only Zach and Rueben are forced into stereotypes that aren’t natural to them, but also the other guys, Angel and Jon, which is also inevitably damaging their friendships with each other.
I loved that none of our main characters ever get too arrogant or complacent. Even though they complain and find the going tough, they still acknowledge how lucky they are, and that they don’t take their good fortune for granted. We see that each boy is very talented. It was fortunate that Jon’s father is well known in the music industry, but the authors make it clear that their singing and hard work is just as crucial to their success. And all that hard work? It’s exhausting them.
The romance is at the core of the story. Rueben has long harboured intense feelings for Zach. It is Zach’s questioning journey that holds the key to their relationship. He has denied any attraction to boys for a long time, so now, confronting what he feels for Rueben is scary, and authentically takes quite some time. Their friendship is also at risk, so for both of them, this step into romantic love causes a lot of angst.
The sub plots provide character development and issues to challenge readers: Angel’s foray into the wild world and subsequent risky behaviour, Jon’s increasing unhappiness with his father’s directions for the band, Rueben’s perfectionist parents, and Zach’s preference to acquiesce to everyone else ensures audiences are immersed and entertained. That the record company do not want a same sex relationship to become public provides much of the conflict and tension, and is ultimately the dominant consideration for the resolution (although Angel plays his part as well).
Highly recommended for teenagers who like their contemporaries full of longing, humour, and a dash of darkness. There are references to drug-taking and drinking, and one band member does end up in hospital, but these are all dealt with appropriately. It’s mostly a celebratory voyage of young people seeking love, acceptance and connection, themes with which we can all identify. If This Gets Out is a highly enjoyable and satisfying read.
Reviewed by Trish Buckley