What happens when your life just flicks a switch and turns upside down? In Ben De Backer’s case, he, or should I say they, found it hard to believe in hope ever again. There are loads of stories, real life and made up, with regular people like you and I, where life gives them so much hell the only thing they have left for them is going rogue. However, this is not one of those hope-bashing stories.
On the surface, when you first hear about Ben coming out to his parents, who’s been terrified of telling for a very long time, and you hear about Ben being kicked right out of his house as a result, you’d think it’s because Ben came out as gay, but it’s not quite that. It’s not what gender this teen’s attracted to rather than what gender he believes he is, and this one is nonbinary, meaning not identifying as male nor female; Ben feels he has more than one binary identity. So the correct pronouns, instead of “he” and “him” or “she” and “her”, are “they” and “them”, but another correct pronoun is “I” rather than “We”.
Ben’s been talking to another nonbinary individual called Mariam, and they have quite the social media following. But Mariam is unable to help when Ben is kicked out and forced to call his 11-years-old’er’ sister Hannah for help, who they haven’t seen for over a decade after she ran away. Hannah, now 28 while Ben’s 17, takes them to her house where she’s living with the chemistry teacher of the local high school, and Ben has to transition to a new education, new home, new friends, new guardians, new reality. But a one-in-a-million friend named Nathan is more than enthusiastic to help him in his grasping attempts.
A few confessions; I’m gay if you didn’t know, I have friends who are gay and friends who are transgender and friends who are bisexual, but I’d actually never heard of nonbinary people before. I guess I haven’t done my homework thoroughly enough. But now I’ve caught up. And honestly, I hope as many nonbinary people as possible are living comfortable lives being who they are and those who met complications like Ben are also able to come back from it all.
Now, due to the cover alone, it’s obvious Ben has feelings for Nathan and vice versa. And considering how peaceful and happy they both look in the cover, it would be a surprise if it didn’t end up working out with them, right? So I guess the question is how is it going to happen rather than if it will, and there’s criticism and compliment from me on their relationship. Ben and Nathan are tremendously sweet to each other from day one. They are the perfect example of a healthy friendship that could amount to something much bigger. On the other hand, sometimes it feels too perfect. Their friendship is completely steady and neither of them seem like the type to get mad over minor misunderstandings. And not to be critical of what anyone else’s interests are; I became a book reviewer at 15 no less, but I found it hard to believe Nathan would find reading fiction boring while also finding it exciting doing scholarly research. Relationships in general should also expect way more bumps than Ben and Nathan do, but sometimes we all are in need of a simple sweet romance, and the one in I Wish You All The Best still fits the bill.
Another little criticism is it sometimes seems Ben is in a lot more heartbreak than we are. After a very brutal beginning things get better for them pretty quickly. Things are definitely still rough; they had to transfer schools and potentially forever say goodbye to their parents who just disowned them. But we feel relief they immediately have someone to permanently welcome them without attached strings, alongside a very good school and some very good friends. That is all honestly fine – you can’t give all the brutality to one victim of homophobia and Deaver manages to write with the proper lingering feelings inside Ben’s head, of the troubles that persist and the bruises that scar. It’s just sometimes when the book is slow, it’s noticeably slow, especially compared to the heartbreaking beginning.
The book still manages to keep us rooting for Ben to figure out their way and figure out their inner demons: Can they forgive Hannah for abandoning them all those years ago to intolerable parents? What actually happened way back when? Is Nathan really into them? Would he not be if he knew the full extent? Will Ben ever be able to forgive their parents, or are they just never going to see them again? Are they basically dead to them? These are legitimate questions loads of people in various situations must confront, and Mason Deaver did a good job. If you want a heavyhanded romance, I Wish You All The Best is more in the friendship-bromance slow-realization department. Instead, the issues Ben faces about his new life are tackled, and tackled quite well.
I’d expect the amount of pressure Ben is under can’t be fixed over an intense therapy session or a big confrontation, just like that. A lot of soul-searching, fears, reluctance, and simple mental depression have to take place as well. This is what the book is about most of all rather than being fully romantic, which is all well and fine.
In the end, like the spectacular book Anger is a Gift – which is even more brutal, I Wish You All The Best faces up to a simple fact, this one being there are kids out there who are kicked out of their homes by parents or guardians unable to accept who they are attracted to, and there is no excuse for the adults who do that.