Score: 92/100 (9.2 out of 10)
I Love You Just the Way You Are by Riley Rian may be the best-written and structured work of LGBTQ+ fiction that we have ever read. If it's not, it's matched or exceeded only by Valiente by A.G. Castillo, which ironically also doubled at a bit of a sports novel.
This thoughtful work by Riley Rian follows two seemingly star-crossed trans and gay lovers, Maddie and Kellen, as they endure many of the struggles experienced by transgender and gay people including bullying, rejection by friends and family, ostracism by the community, and being forced to decide on their personal truth.
Not only can this book be empathetic to LGBTQ+ readers, it can actually be quite eye-opening to cis and straight readers. This is a very rare perspective. We've read books about gay characters and trans characters, but we've never read a book about gay AND trans characters. It can be confusing or off-putting to some who simply don't understand this lifestyle. This book seeks to address the confusion and anxiety that people have by humanizing these characters, reminding readers (and society at a whole) that gay and trans people are still people—human beings—who have thoughts, needs, dreams, and desires just like everyone.
One of the ways that this book achieves this the best is in showing the audience that trans and gay people have interests that don't involve sex or gender—they're athletes, video gamers, Twitch streamers, artists, and authors. They can even be fans of metal and rock music.
Something that may be the most shocking to unfamiliar audiences is that a trans character like Kellen could be a 6 ft.+ 200 lbs.+ star quarterback on a football team. In other words, it could be shocking to some is that trans people might love some of the same things and be good at some of the same things that cis people are.
Who would've thought that a trans person might love football as much as the old, cis white boomer down the street? Who would've thought that a trans, gay person might love video games or manga as much as the cis, straight nerd next door?
Kellen dreams of going to USC on a football scholarship despite struggling in school. They are menaced by their alcoholic mother (who drinks over eight beers a day) and their violent, right-wing father.
Kellen is also a skilled and passionate artist who loves manga.
Maddie, formerly known as Jeff, is also a lover of manga with a much more supportive and loving family structure. One of her fondest hobbies is live-streaming her gaming on the Twitch platform where she sometimes has over 300 live viewers. That doesn't mean her life is sunshine and roses as she is often bullied at school and treated poorly by those who don't understand trans people. So, her struggle parallels Kellen.
Overall, Kellen and Maddie are a very interesting and often sweet couple. There are some times when their relationship seems a bit off simply because Maddie starts the book by repeatedly rejecting Kellen's advances while Kellen comes across as a stalker—even admitting as much several times. So, even in a cis, heterosexual context, the beginning of their relationship seems to have a rocky and sketchy start. At the same time, it's understandable. Both Kellen and Maddie are still coming to grips with presenting as their new genders and accepting their attraction to the same sex. They both have an anxiety of not being accepted and, in Kellen's case, being killed by either parent or having his football career implode on itself due to a PR nightmare.
This book seeks to answer many of the questions and struggles that people have about this unique demographic.
All in all, this is a worthwhile read if you're into LGBTQ+ literature.
Check it out on Amazon!