When Zel’s family moves back to Australia from the United States, she has to find her bearings in Sydney, while also making sense of the relationship she left behind: as Zel narrates the process of settling in and making friends at her new school, she also uses flashbacks to tell the story of meeting and falling for Prim in New York. It’s a sweet young adult novel – the story focuses thoughtfully on adolescent relationships, and as the present unfolds and the past is slowly revealed, you eagerly start to fit together the pieces that make up the puzzle that is Zel’s life.
Here’s the Thing is a thoroughly enjoyable read – Zel is a well fleshed-out character, and her first-person narrative (and copious endearing parenthetical asides) really draw the reader in. It’s refreshing to read a YA novel with a lesbian protagonist whose story doesn’t revolve exclusively around coming out or finding one true love. Coming out is an important step, and a process that never really ends (Zel even talks about coming out to people and clocking their reaction), but it’s great to see a YA character who is gay right off the bat, and for whom romance is just one aspect of the story (though there is certainly romance in Zel’s life – an excellent slow burn romance with one of her new friends, built up in just the right way that has the reader wholeheartedly rooting for them).
The novel does have a few missteps. There are a few regrettable comments: for example, there is an odd interaction between Zel and her father in which he proclaims that she couldn’t have been asexual because they are Italian and they need to love. Zel also seems to live that special shiny kind of life found only in YA novels: she has moved across the globe twice, her mother works for a modeling agency, and her father makes costumes for the opera. Some of these details detract from, rather than add to, the relatable nature of Zel’s story – but these qualms are minor, and easily overcome.
The novel’s greatest strength is its focus on the characters’ relationships. The account of Zel’s relationship with Prim, in both the past and the present, is an excellent exposition of unreciprocated teenage love and teenage angst – their emotions and actions feel raw and real. At the heart of Zel’s story is the process of figuring out friendship and love, and the messiness that can come in trying to distinguish between the two – Zel’s journey is both universal and wholly her own.