You Belong With Me, Jeff Erno
Publisher: Harmony Ink
Genre: Young Adult, Bullying, Contemporary, Jock/Nerd
A nerd falls for a popular jock who is not out of the closet. Throw in the popular cheerleader girlfriend, the bullying by another jock, a story modeled after a popular Taylor Swift video (including the title) and you have a fairly predictable teenage story.
Wesley Harris is sixteen. He is openly gay and has never hidden his homosexuality. He has been bullied for years but has managed to keep that from his parents. Brad Johnson is seventeen and a popular baseball player at the high school that he and Wesley attend. Brad’s family moves next door to Wes and his and Brad’s bedroom windows face each other. They start communicating via notes held up to the window. Wes is aware that Brad is straight as he has been dating the captain of the cheerleading squad on and off for awhile. That doesn’t stop Wes from crushing on him anyway. A friendship develops between the two boys away from school but they keep up the note thing anyway. It’s a fun way to communicate with each other and neither boy wants to stop it. It doesn’t take long before Brad confides to Wes that he thinks he is bisexual and that he has feelings for Wes. Wes is over the moon though his mother warns him to be careful. He should have listened to his mother but that is just the opinion of this reader.
In a short amount of time Brad and Wes become a secret couple and even venture into sexual contact. Everything is going well for them until suddenly something happens and it’s not. Brad has a run-in with his homophobic father and suddenly everything he had said … and done… to and with.. Wes is tossed aside. At this moment I despised Brad. He had built up Wes and led him to believe that they would be okay and that he didn’t care what anyone thought about their relationship. Then suddenly that changed and not only does he toss Wes aside but he says hurtful things. I had a difficult time coming back from that especially considering that I adored Brad up until this point.
On top of the Brad thing, Wes is being bullied at school by another jock… the same jock that Brad’s former girlfriend had cheated on him with. The bullying is taken to a whole new level and something is finally done about it. This, of course, causes repercussions for Wes and he is thrust into a dangerous situation later as a result.
For those familiar with Taylor Swift’s video of You Belong With Me you have seen this story in its entirety with the exception of one or two slight variations. Actually, if you haven’t seen the gay version of the video I suggest you do so as it is more accurate to this book (and not just the fact that both characters are male) as one of those characters is a baseball player (like Brad) instead of a football player like in the hetero version. Both characters communicate via notes from their bedroom windows. The prom incident from the video is there. The two boys (after having broken up) sit on a park bench and the ‘girlfriend’ shows up to pick up Brad. Wes dances around his room while singing into a hairbrush. The cheerleader girlfriend wears “high heels and short skirts”… the list of similarities is endless. I am aware that this was undoubtedly intentional but I am surprised at exactly how similar the book is to the video. I knew what was going to happen right before it happened.
While I found this story to be entertaining and I am a definite fan of this author, I also felt like I was reading the same Young Adult book that I have read countless times. Throw in the similarities to a video that I have been forced to watch again and again (I have a teenage son who recently went through a Taylor Swift phase) and I found very little originality in the story.
There’s the jock who is in the closet. The nerd who is bullied. At least one homophobic parent. I am in no way making light of bullying or the fear one goes through in coming out of the closet. But I had hopes of reading something different from almost every other Young Adult book I have read recently. Unfortunately that is not the case with You Belong With Me. I did enjoy the story of Brad and Wes but I found myself eager to finish it. I also should mention the gay icons who are mentioned repeatedly throughout with one actually being in a very unrealistic scene in the book (albeit via video). There is an epilogue at the end of the book that shows the two characters a bit farther down the road in their relationship. As much as I wanted to see Wes and Brad a few years later, I felt that it was unnecessary as I found myself having a difficult time going from the teen Wes and Brad to them as adults so quickly.
Overall, the story is good but as I said, predictable. For fans of Taylor Swift, this is right up your alley as you are given a written (gay) version of almost the exact video of You Belong With Me, one of her more popular songs. For me, it just felt like more of the same.