Trigger warning: gender dysphoria, trauma
I Wish You All the Best has been written by Mason Deaver, a non-binary author and bookseller from a small town in North Carolina. Regarding it, they say: “I started writing [it] when I decided I wanted to tell the story that I needed when I was younger. This book is what I needed when I was fifteen, when I was eighteen, and it’s still the story I need in my twenties.” This is how many great stories begin: out of necessity. I believe there are tons of people now who need to hear this story to know that things will be okay, even if they don’t appear to be so right this moment. After all, a simple reassurance is sometimes enough to mend a fractured soul.
Right from the beginning, the book elicits a barrage of emotions from the readers. It picks up with a confrontation between the protagonist, Ben and their parents. With hopes of being accepted by them, Ben has finally mustered courage to come out to their parents as non-binary. However, this hope is immediately thwarted by the parents’ response and the reader is left reeling with shock as they witness the parents’ cruelty and brutality towards their own child.
Being thrown out of their home, Ben is left alone on the streets, barefoot and without any belongings. Each word is a blow, each sentence torture. It's agonising to continue reading when the narration makes one question the ostensible “unconditional parental love” for their children. Not being accepted for who you inherently are, and what you can’t change, sucks big time. The life that Ben knew hitherto is ripped apart, crumpled, and thrown away in an instant. There is no time for recovery. Although the reader is spared the horrendous details, Ben’s suffering is palpable. It's scary to imagine a 17-year-old on the streets, vulnerable, alone, with nowhere to go. At an age where I am still dependent on my family for everything, simply to imagine being left to fend for myself for a reason as seemingly unalterable as my gender identity was a nightmare enough.
An ember of hope ignites within Ben when their sister takes them into her home but it is quickly smothered by the looming emptiness that threatens to swallow them whole as they are faced with the challenge of starting a new life. There is a certain relief in knowing that there is still someone out there for Ben, to look for them and care for them. I particularly liked Ben’s sister, Hannah, as she comes across as a very likable character, effectively playing the role of the elder sister, while simultaneously being a parental figure. What I loved was the fact that the author doesn't try to sweep all the unresolved differences between the siblings under the rug. Rather, the focus is on communicating problems and conversing with others, even when it's hard.
Ben is struck with agonising blows: the fear of not knowing the next step, the burden of the heartache from the ugly end of their relationship with their parents, and the looming uncertainty. A new school, a new life, seems too daunting; even the reader could feel their nervousness and apprehension. Their decision to not come out as a non-binary person to the whole school is understandable. Yet, it is heart-wrenching to see them be addressed by wrong pronouns which is a stab in the gut for them each time. Misgendering may seem trivial but, in reality, it invalidates the identity of trans and non-binary people, resulting in deep trauma to folks who may already be suffering from gender dysphoria. Despite the bleakness, conscious efforts are made by Hannah and Thomas to use correct pronouns and other gender-neutral terms for Ben.
There were times when I, myself, referred to Ben as ‘he’ and had to correct myself. The lack of awareness about the existence of genders other than man and woman is concerning and must be addressed. It wasn't until I read this book that I realised the concept of gender dysphoria and its seriousness. Ben also struggles with it; observing them not being comfortable in their own skin, with facial hair growth, and things about their body that they were still adjusting to, was a difficult experience. This is precisely how a book written about a non-binary character by a non-binary author differs from the one written by a cis person. The adage, “don’t judge a person until you have walked a mile in their shoes” rings true here. The complexity and depth that this novel had, wouldn’t have been achieved by any other cis or heterosexual author.
The author beautifully portrays Ben’s friendship with Nathan, their schoolmate, and Mariam, a non-binary content creator who has supported Ben in their journey of self-identification and acceptance. Mariam is a rock for Ben to lean on when going gets hard. The book is more of a family-oriented story than a romance. The focus is on Ben’s chosen family when even his parents abandoned him. This isn't to say that romance is dead here. The development of Ben and Nathan's relationship from strangers to something-more-than-friends is adorable and heartfelt. It left me gushing the whole time. A smile crept up my face inevitably every time Nathan came into the scene. Nathan's role as a support system for them, assisting them in adjusting to their new life, and simply being themself- a cheerful, upbeat person- is very wholesome.
There were times when things became too heavy to bear, when even getting out of bed was difficult, but Ben persevered. Through the anxiety, depression, and panic attacks, where the reader is left gripping their seats, unable to bear their pain, Ben picks up the pieces and moves forward. Sometimes, it becomes easier to handle the pain when there is someone else to share it with, and they are fortunate to have these people in their life who understand their problems and are willing to help Ben through them.
In the image: Mason Deaver
This book is a witty and tender take on the struggles of folks with non-binary gender identities. The writing is easy and fast-paced. The side characters have depth in their stories, tugging at the reader’s heartstrings. Ben, at the end of the novel, is finally comfortable in their own skin, flaunting their coloured nails in public, going on tour with Mariam to talk about themselves, and being uncertain yet certain about their future. It's encouraging to see how far Ben has progressed from a shy, introverted child to a confident young person who accepts themselves for who they are. Mason Deaver writes a beautiful book that teaches compassion, acceptance, and empathy. It’s a heart-breaking and joyous journey that readers are proud to be a part of. A must-read for all.
This Night Owl Original has been authored by Maahi Sharma. She is a sarcastic bookworm who spent the past 18 years of her life narrowly avoiding talking to people. She is a Gryffindor at heart but with latent Slytherin tendencies. She loves binging old SRK movies, and responds mostly to "Your Majesty".