When it comes to queer fiction, especially queer YA, it is becoming trendy for reviewers—myself included—to say that we need to move beyond coming-out stories. We need stories about young queer people who are already openly, joyously queer. This is true. However, with Friday I’m in Love Camryn Garrett demonstrates why a coming-out story is still viable and valuable.
Mahalia Harris didn’t get a Sweet Sixteen—her mother couldn’t afford it. A year later, she decides to throw herself an alternative: a coming-out party. Her plans are complicated by two factors: first, Mahalia doesn’t have much money herself; second, she is crushing hard on the new girl in school, Siobhan, who also happens to have a boyfriend. Oops. Mahalia puts a plan into motion that, if successful, would see her coming out to family and friends by the end of the summer. But, as usual, life finds a way to get in the way.
Ever since I first read Full Disclosure, Garrett has been one of my must-buy authors. I love the layers she gives her stories. On one hand, Friday I’m in Love is a romance. It’s Mahalia crushing on and attempting to woo Siobhan, and it is every but as cute and dorky as it sounds (there are playlists involved!). Yet Mahalia has her flaws—she is a teenager after all—and can hurt those around her, like her best friend, Naomi, or her mom, while focused exclusively on her party. This is as much a story about existing in community as it is about individual drive, passion, or love.
Along the same lines, I love that even though this book is about coming out, Mahalia herself is very clear on her sexuality (and Naomi is along on the ride with her). Again, there is still a valuable place for books about protagonists who are questioning and discovering their sexuality. But I love that Mahalia is confident and clear: she likes girls, and right now she likes Siobhan in particular. As I often remark, I’m not the right reader to discuss how good the romance tropes are! Nevertheless, I enjoyed the romance in this book and would actively recommend it to my more romantically inclined friends for their reading lists.
Each chapter has a banner at the top that displays any recent transactions and then Mahalia’s bank account balance. This is a very overt reminder of how perilous Mahalia and her mother’s financial situations are: even as money comes in to Mahalia’s account from paydays, it goes out again just as easily. Naomi, her family more privileged, acts as Mahalia’s foil in this regard. Through her, Garrett demonstrates how even just a little more money—and more security of capital—can set someone apart. Naomi works at the grocery store just like Mahalia, but she doesn’t have the same constant existential concerns around finances that Mahalia has. And this tension, latent in their friendship, manifests more strongly both because of issues with Mahalia’s mother and because of Mahalia’s focus on pulling off her party.
Garrett puts a lot of emphasis on the value of friendship, which I also appreciate. As Mahalia began brushing off Naomi’s attempts to talk about her issues, I smiled to myself, knowing this would led to conflict—perhaps even a blowout—down the line. I love how Garrett walks the line of creating a protagonist who, while very likeable, also needs to be held accountable by others.
This is also evident in Mahalia’s complex relationship with her mom. Like so many families where money is an ever-present anxiety, Mahalia’s mother tries her best to shield her daughter from that anxiety while also instilling a sense of fiscal respect and responsibility. When setbacks, racism, and ableism affect Mahalia’s mom’s income, Mahalia unfortunately has to step up. This puts a strain on their relationship in a way that some readers, including myself, have the privilege of never knowing.
I could go on about all the other relationships in this book, particularly Mahalia and her dad. But what it boils down to is this: Garrett has created a story that is very slice-of-life. It’s as colourful as its cover. I love the ending, love the way Garrett balanced romance and reality. It was a perfect read for Pride month, but it is also a perfect read any time.