A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Sight-seeing in London, Wales, and Italy features some light historical information on Stonehenge, Cardiff Castle, Big Ben, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the Accademia Gallery in Florence (site of Michelangelo's Statue of David), and other locations. There's also classical music references to composers like, Bach, Rachmaninoff, and Brahms and other composers like George Gershwin, Hans Zimmer, and John Williams.
Positive themes of found family, friendship, and love is love. Trust your instincts and listen to friends. Look out for yourself and be careful about who you give your heart to. Don't change yourself for anyone. Some people deserve forgiveness but others do not. Cut toxic people out of your life. Music can be therapeutic.
Positive Role Models
Marty is a strong older teen boy role model. Openly sharing his daily and moment-to-moment struggles with anxiety that occasionally sends him off hiding in a corner, Marty is humble, nonjudgmental, incredibly self-reflexive, and bravely faces new challenges (like playing his oboe in front of hundreds of strangers). He's careful with his heart, doesn't rush into things, and stands up against poor near-sexual-assault behavior from his boyfriend. Sophie is a better best friend model for Marty than Megan. Rather than berate, shame, and point out his weaknesses like Megan does, Sophie helps Marty with encouragement and kindness, leaning into his strengths. Sophie also confronts Marty about his recent unhealthy changes and later forgives him for reacting poorly.
Violence & Scariness
There's one scene that could be read as a sexual assault attempt. One teen boy makes out with his boyfriend at night after drinking wine at dinner. Ignoring a handful of doubts and protestations from his boyfriend, the aggressor keeps going, eventually trying to pull down his boyfriend's pants without asking for consent. Things stop relatively quickly, but the aggressor then shames the other boy and says, "You can't blue-ball me!" and "This is how adults deal with their problems!"
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A fair amount of romantic kissing, cuddling, and discussing of intimate relationships. Lots of descriptive words about physical body parts, arms, necks, stomachs, muscles, and smiles. Also a fair amount of heavy breathing, caressing, and hands sliding up thighs. A teen boy gets "excited" during a car ride. In a bed, two teen boys make out and cuddle, clothed. They do this another time, but with their shirts off and in their boxers. A teen boy looks at another boy's "full package" inside boxer shorts. One teen comments, "almost thought I caught you jacking it." One joke about a London Underground station called Cockfosters.
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Strong language throughout includes, "f--k," "f--king," "s--t," "ass," "bitch," "f-g," and "hell."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Lots of underage drinking overseas in London, England, where the law is represented as being very lax. There are scenes with teens drinking wine and beer in pubs, restaurants, and in apartments and Airbnbs. A teen shows drunken behavior. Another teen mentions a friend being "so chill it's like she's constantly high on pot." A teen girl takes out the components needed for rolling her own cigarettes, does so, and offers one to another teen boy, who tries it. A teen mentions, "splitting a bottle of NyQuil and sleeping for 14 hours."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that As Far As You'll Take Me is an enjoyable coming-of-age young adult gay romance novel by Phil Stamper. Months after coming out to his parents did not go well, Marty boards a plane for London, England to start a new life. A talented oboist and musician, Marty desires a job, even if it's only busking (street performing) in the Underground. But his parents think he's going for school, and even Megan, his best friend, thinks he's coming back. Either way, Marty is giving this experiment three months, during which he'll discover new friends, new loves (both human and musical), and new challenges. Expect lots of frank discussion about identity, sexuality, positive vs. toxic relationships, romance, trust, friends, and found family. There's also a fair amount of nonexplicit sexual language that describes a teen boy's physical body parts, like necks, arms, thighs, stomachs, muscles, and "packages" inside boxers. Lots of romantic kissing, cuddling, and hand holding. A few scenes with Marty and another teen together in a bed in only underwear. One scene in particular could be read as sexual assault, when a boy pull down another's pants without asking for consent. The incident is not discussed as sexual assault in the novel, but the boy's behavior is considered horrible by the victim and other characters. Lots of underage drinking in pubs, restaurants, and homes. Some teens smoke hand-rolled cigarettes. Strong language throughout includes "f--k," "f--king," "s--t," "ass," "bitch," "f-g," and "hell."
Is It Any Good?
Phil Stamper's delightful second novel features an awkward but confident gay teen boy who bravely moves to another country in hopes of a freer and more comfortable life performing music. As Far As You'll Take Me is brave for championing a lead character who suffers from social anxiety that causes him to hide if things get too crazy, as well as from an eating disorder that causes him to pass out, nap constantly, and fret over the dietary info of everything he eats. (Hopefully, in the future, Stamper will be able to offer more in the way of how to deal with these conditions better, talk about them more, and live a better life despite them.) Still, Marty is incredibly self-reflexive and thoughtful about the ways in which others are feeling and thinking, for better and for worse. These ingredients make for a strong but unconventional lead character who's easy to get behind and root for.
The depth and fullness of the characters (including London itself) Marty encounters also impresses. There are varied characters who have clearly different personalities, backgrounds, and histories with other characters, which leads to different friendship dynamics and believable social politics. Add in the music school's politics of chair positionings and student "value," notable descriptions of London, Cardiff, Florence, and other locations, and character arcs that matter, and you have a deep and robust world for Marty to discover. Also, the book directly comments on anti-gay sentiment and policies, traumatic coming-out stories, social anxiety, eating disorders, toxic relationships, and respecting your body. Marty endures a painful first love but handles it remarkably well, which also represents a model way of handling disappointment in the game of love. The novel could have had a more frank discussion of the need for consent, but the character's reaction to an unwanted advance is convincing and shows resilience.
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