"This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story" Is the Rom-Com We Need
I’ve always had a soft spot for romantic comedies.
Romance isn’t taken too seriously and there is almost always an interesting cast of characters along for the ride. When it comes to romantic comedies involving LGBTQ+ characters, there are all too few in the world. As a result, I was delighted to discover Kacen Callender’s book This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story. Not only is it written by a Black queer author, but the main characters are queer people of color.
The book tells the story of Nathan Bird, an awkward Black teen and aspiring filmmaker. Nathan Bird doesn’t believe in happy endings due to his dad’s death and a break up with his girlfriend-turned-best friend. When his childhood best friend Oliver “Ollie” James Hernández returns to town, Nathan must decide whether his romantic feelings for Ollie are worth acknowledging.
One of the best aspects of this book is its main lead, Nathan. His awkwardness, quirks, and passion shine through the sensitive voice given to him by the author. His internal dialogue is especially well-done, letting you get a sense of the anxiety he feels when it comes to interacting with others and forming close relationships. One train of thought goes, “I should do something. Ask her out. Tell her she looks nice. Wait, is that catcalling? Even if it’s in hipster cafe and not out on the street? Fucking shit. I’m a catcalling bastard.”
Besides Nathan, his old and new love interests are also well written. Florence Lim is a visual artist who often draws Nathan’s favorite movie characters for him. She wants to see Nathan happy with a new love, even though Nathan still isn’t over her. While she has moved on and now has a girlfriend named Lydia, her friendship with Nathan is still important to her.
Meanwhile, Ollie is a deaf teen who aspires to be a photographer. He is as passionate about his art as Ollie is and uses his passion to encourage Ollie to go for his dreams. Ollie also uses a combination of sign language and the notes app of a cell phone to communicate, but this is just an extension of his character. Ollie is never depicted as inspiration porn for Nathan; he is just an everyday teen dealing with family problems and romance.
In addition to the main characters, the secondary cast is also well done. In particular, Nathan’s mom is a nice balance of loving and strict, while Nathan’s sister Rebecca is a close confidant despite her being across the country. Nathan’s relationship with his mom is poignant because they have to learn to deal with the aftermath of losing Nathan’s dad. Other interesting secondary characters include nerd-jock Gideon and nerdy romantic Ashley, who are mutual friends with Nathan, Flo, and Ollie.
Together, all the characters tell a sweet story of not only romantic love, but also coming-of-age, friendship, and family. Nathan’s interactions with his loved ones are enhanced by smart, fun, and realistic dialogue. One particular conversation I enjoyed between Nathan and Ollie was about having sex for the first time, how awkward they felt and whether they were ready to do so. In fact, this might be the first time I’ve read about sex that wasn’t perfect the first time.
A more quirky aspect of the dialogue is the various pop culture references throughout the book. Many nods are subtle such as Ollie naming his dog after Donna Noble from Doctor Who and Florence talking about the America Chavez comic book with her girlfriend Lydia. Certain movie references are used in an entertaining way, such as when Ollie and Nico spontaneously reenact a kiss from the film Amelie.
The only flaw I found in this book was the mild confusion I had while reading the interactions between Nathan and his loved ones. There are so many characters that it was a little difficult to keep up with them all. At one point, I had to go back and reread certain parts when I felt like I was missing something.
All in all, this book is the teen rom-com we need more of. Nathan and his loved ones will make you smile and yell at them at the same time. Filled with laughter, drama, and honesty, this book is queer coming-of-age bliss.
The Afro YA promotes black young adult authors and YA books with black characters, especially those that influence Pennington, an aspiring YA author who believes that black YA readers need diverse books, creators, and stories so that they don’t have to search for their experiences like she did.
Latonya Pennington is a poet and freelance pop culture critic. Their freelance work can also be found at PRIDE, Wear Your Voice magazine, and Black Sci-fi. As a poet, they have been published in Fiyah Lit magazine, Scribes of Nyota, and Argot magazine among others.