Pub. Date: 2016
Genre: Contemporary Realistic Fiction, YA
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
James Liddell is in the closet in his small Vermont town. Everyone in town knows him to be a star athlete who is dating sweet Theresa. He writes his darkest secrets in letters that he will never send, like Abraham Lincoln. He likes boys. As he figures out who he is, he befriends new people and works through his problems in writing. Kenneth Logan’s True Letters from a Fictional Life is a coming-of-age, coming-out story about an athlete who is trying to come to terms with his sexuality as well as anticipating how everyone else would react.
I saw this book a few weeks ago at the library, and the cover looked peculiar. What does a PEZ alligator have to do with a fictional life? (The answer is revealed early.) Then I read the synopsis, so I decided to check it out. It was fun and fast to read until I was more than half way through. I hardly picked it up once school started, so I lost some of the momentum of the story.
This is a plot-driven book. The characters act, but their decisions do not push the conflict. Certain encounters and discoveries force James to act and change. It starts with the openly gay Aaron Foster getting picked on and continues with events making the protagonist brood and work to accept his true self. My only issue with the plot is that secret writings will inevitably lead to one specific conflict. Think secret diary. This is not done in a bad way, but the coming conflict was predictable even if its resolution was elusive.
I like the characters, but only James truly develops. Logan went for a diverse cast in that there were gender differences, a racial difference, sexuality, and extracurricular activities. I did not see how the other characters changed. I like the initial premise of James being an athlete, and I like that he likes writing and takes some interest in history. It reminds me of P.C. and Kristin Cast’s House of Night series emphasizing that Damien Maslin did not fit into a stereotype of a gay man, but I think Logan accomplished this better. James has to put his fictional life to rest and accept reality. He has to come to terms with his sexuality and with his close-minded town. He works this out through interactions with his friends and significant others, mostly.
Themes include accepting homosexuality and taking care with where you keep your secrets. The novel is clear that sexuality is not a choice and that society needs to be accepting. None of the issues covered in the book feel contrived. The secret diary trope brings up the idea of trust, but it means being careful with where you decide to write down your secrets, if that is what you like to do.
If you liked Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, you might like True Letters from a Fictional Life for the subject matter and the similar correspondence method. Logan’s novel is a good YA contemporary read about secrets, growing up, and coming out.