Review: In the Desert (States of Love) by Elliot Joyce

Can a Navajo trans teen and a nerdy Catholic find the place they belong... and maybe themselves? In the desert, anything is possible….

When Wren came out as transgender before his senior year, it cost him most of his friends. His father hopes joining a Boy Scout troop might help Wren meet other young men his age and be accepted for who he is.

Felipe Nieves wants the new guy in the troop to feel comfortable, and he reaches out to Wren. They become fast friends… with something more beneath the surface. Those feelings confuse Felipe, since his religion considers this a sin—and he’s always assumed he was straight—but he can’t help pining for Wren. Asking him out will take courage, and getting together won’t be easy… but through their friendship, both young men might find their identities… and learn to embrace them in a unique coming-of-age story set against the beauty of the American Southwest.

Wren and Felipe are teens who meet at a Boy Scout group. Wren was encouraged to go by his dad, as a way to meet more friends. Being out as trans is something recent, and he still feels awkward and alone as the only trans person he knows. So he goes along with his father’s suggestion to his little brother’s Scout group although he’s not convinced he’s in the right place for him.

Felipe is drawn to Wren and really wants to be his friend. He is almost compelled to be friends with Wren. He doesn’t fully understand why, but knows it has to happen. With the help of his best friend Kyle, he puts himself out there and they start building a friendship. While Wren knows he is crushing on his friend, Felipe is slow to catch on to his own feelings. Coming from a Catholic upbringing this is a pretty terrifying development for a boy who always thought he was straight.

I really enjoyed the awkwardness of this. It felt like my high school years. Yes, I was ridiculously awkward (and still am really), so it warms my heart that I am not alone, at least not in fiction. There was some really sweet relationship building between Wren and Felipe.

Wren is still learning to feel comfortable with himself and there are a lot of things he still wants to help this journey along. Fitting in has always been hard, but his new group of friends have no problems treating him like someone they have known forever. This confidence boost brings him out of his shell, and we get to know Wren as a great friend with an easy going nature.

Felipe is a sweetheart. He takes a shine to Wren, but he is also an awesome friend to Kyle and Travis. A bit of an introvert, who loves his Abuela, the baby of the family and the last one to go to go off to college, he is dependable and generous with his time and energy.

I loved Kyle’s personality. Even though he didn’t seem to have a filter, had boundless energy, and was completely flighty, he was still a great friend and had his own agenda in how he was going to get Felipe to acknowledge his attraction to Wren. Kyle reminds me of my baby brother. Growing up with him was equal parts exasperating and hilarious with the most generous heart I have ever known. I loved reading that here. I would have loved to learn more about him.

I didn’t get to know Travis much, as Kyle had a bigger support role than he did, but his easy banter and patience with Kyle was great and it would be fun for them to get a story. Even just a road trip adventure.

I enjoyed everything about this story. The character development is strong, as is the writing style. This is more character driven than plot driven, but that takes nothing from this story. It was a really nice, clean coming of age young adult novella that I would feel very comfortable recommending to everyone from 14 onward.

A review copy was provided for an honest opinion

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