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Like a Love Story

Book review by
Samara Meyer, Common Sense Media
Like a Love Story Book Poster Image
Emotional tale about self-acceptance set during AIDS crisis.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn about the history and politics surrounding the AIDS crisis, the gay liberation movement, the Iranian revolution, as well as other events from the 1980s such as the Central Park Five case. Many facts about famous musicians, actors, and authors who were popular in the '80s and figures in gay culture. In-depth look at the ACT UP movement and various real life protests and demonstrations the activist group organized. The author lists influential films, artists, scholars, and activists from the LGBT community in the back if the book.  

Positive Messages

Love, self-expression, empathy, forgiveness, following your heart, and fighting for justice are all major themes. Supportive friends can help you process grief and mortality. Standing up for what you believe can have a real impact on the world. Communication is key for relationships and friendships to endure hardships. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The three main characters strive to make good choices in spite of their fears and setbacks, though they are not always successful. They have unique interests, are passionate about justice and have strong moral convictions. Reza's story is a realistic example of what closeted teens go through. Reza, Art, and Judy all experience the negative impact of dishonesty on their friendship and work hard to right their wrongs. The adults in the story are portrayed as flawed, but positive figures. Uncle Stephen is an especially important mentor who teaches the trio life lessons about forgiveness, love, and individuality. Diverse depiction of LGBT people and allies. Positive portrayal of cultural differences and being an immigrant in America.

Violence

A main character physically attacks a bully at school for using homophobic language, police are aggressive and throw activists to the ground at ACT UP protests, but there's no serious injuries. 

Sex

Sex is a prominent, complex issue in the book. Reza especially struggles with his identity due to the panic surrounding AIDS, and he must learn to overcome his fear of sex to be truly happy. Safe sex practices are discussed at length and with sensitivity. Couples kiss, teens get tested for STDs, and two teen boys have sex for the first time, but there's nothing graphic. 

Language

Infrequent swearing includes "damn," "ass," "bitch," "dick," "s--t," and "f--k." Homophobic slurs such as "f-g" are commonly used, along with xenophobic and racist remarks about Reza's heritage. Some crass humor and sexual innuendos. 

Consumerism

References to various brands, companies, and famous New York City restaurants, mostly for scene setting and historical context. Mentions of Pepsi, Discman, Calvin Klein, People magazine. The main characters are obsessed with Madonna and purchase posters and shirts with her face on them. 

 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink wine. Teens drink at a party but not excessively. Reference to AIDS patients heavily taking morphine near end of life. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Like a Love Story is a coming-of-age story about friendship, love, and activism set against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis in New York City in the late 1980s. It's told from the perspective of three teens, Reza, Art, and Judy, as they navigate relationships, family problems, and high school drama. Judy's uncle Stephen is a gay man with AIDS who serves as a role model to the trio and introduces them to the activist group ACT UP. Death and mortality are recurring topics, and there's an emotional scene in which a supporting character passes away due to an AIDS-related illness. There's plenty of sex talk throughout, though most of it is in the context of promoting safe sex and destigmatizing AIDS. Two teen boys in a relationship lose their virginity to each other. Teens discuss sex and sexuality, make out, and drink alcohol on several occasions. A main character starts a physical fight with a homophobic bully at school. Occasional strong language includes "Jesus Christ," "damn," "ass," "bitch," "s--t," and "f--k," as well as some instances of homophobic and racist name-calling.

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What's the story?

In LIKE A LOVE STORY, it's 1989 and Reza is an Iranian immigrant adjusting to his life in New York City with his mom, stepdad, and stepbrother. About to start his first year at an American high school, Reza is terrified that his deepest secret will get out before he even accepts it himself: He's gay. With the AIDS crisis reaching its most devastating point, the idea of living proudly and happily seems like an impossible dream to Reza. All this starts to change when he meets his classmates Art, a rebellious photographer and the only openly gay student at school, and Judy, an aspiring fashion designer who quickly develops a crush on Reza. Together they explore the world of New York, American pop culture, and the iconic music of the '80s. The trio becomes involved with the ACT UP movement under the guidance Judy's uncle Stephen, a gay man living with AIDS who's a dedicated member of the activist group. Reza starts to date Judy in order to hide his identity from his family, but struggles with his feelings for Art. With ACT UP's biggest protest on the horizon and Stephen's health declining, the three friends must face hard truths and emotions to come together for the greater good -- and the love of Madonna.

Is it any good?

Author Abdi Nazemian has crafted a powerful, entertaining story with as many heartrending moments as there are laughs and Madonna references. Partially based on the author's own life experiences, Like a Love Story paints a vibrant and complex portrait of gay culture at a time when the LGBT community was facing one of the darkest chapters in its history. But even when things are at their worst, the resilience of Reza, Art, and Judy shines through and keeps the story moving. Each character feels unique and personal. As we witness the trio navigate such turbulent years, we get to know them at their lowest and highest points; their failures and successes become our failures and successes. And although it can be frustrating when one of them makes a wrong turn, it's all the more rewarding to see how they learn and grow from their mistakes.

The name-dropping of prominent celebrities, popular media, and fashion trends of the may be too heavy-handed for some teens to appreciate, but the wealth of influences present in Like a Love Story help enrich this compelling and worthwhile read.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about immigration stories. What impact does being from an immigrant family have Reza’s identity and experiences? How is Like A Love Story different from other immigrant stories you’ve read or heard?

  • What did you already know or think about the AIDS crisis before reading this book, and what ideas have changed? What did you learn about activism and the gay community that you didn't know before?

  • Why is it important to be honest with your friends? What would you do if you found out a friend was keeping a big secret from you?

  • Have you ever listened to Madonna's music? Why do you think Reza, Art, and Judy look up to her? 

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