Ford, Michael Thomas, “Love & Other Curses”, Harper Teen, 2019.
The Weyward family has been haunted by a curse for generations—if a Weyward falls in love before their seventeenth birthday, the person they love dies. At least, there is a warning and Sam takes it seriously by not planning to fall for anyone in the weeks before his birthday. He’ll spend his time working at the Eezy-Freeze with his dad; doing magic with his grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great-grandmother (the Grands); and experimenting with drag with the help of the queens at the Shangri-La, the local gay club. However, a new guy comes to town and Sam finds himself in trouble when they strike up a friendship that might be way more than that.
As Sam’s birthday nears and he still hasn’t fallen in love, the curse seems to become more powerful and less specific about who it targets. Sam talks to a mysterious girl on the phone late at night and a woman he’s only seen in a dream might have the answers he’s been looking for but time is running out to save the people he cares about. “Love & Other Curses” is a story of queer and trans teenagers finding themselves and each other; a story of the failures and joys of created family and the cruelty and limitations of (some) families of origin. The book explores queerness, gender, attraction, family, and identity and does so powerfully.
Most of us don’t come from queer biological families and we learn our history and our culture from the people who came before us. Young people are often told the lie about blood being thicker than water, and family being more important than anything but unfortunately we learn that this is not true most of the time. It’s important for young people to hear that it’s okay to let go of people who don’t bring anything positive to one’s life, even if those people are your parents. Sam in the book has an excellent relationship with his family, but he also has this other chosen family that is just as important to him. We see that it is possible to have different families in your life.
Sam and Tom are really complex characters who behave badly and have deep desires. Tom, the trans character, does not get a particularly happy story line. And because he’s a supporting character to the cis, gay main character, there has been some criticism of using a trans character to forward move the cis character’s story. But that’s the role of supporting characters and it was important to include a realistic portrayal of what trans teenagers living in rural areas go through. Everything that happens to Tom has happened to one or more trans teens. Tom and Sam do some things to each other that are unkind. But that’s what teenagers do, particularly teenagers who struggle with intense feelings of wanting to be loved and accepted. Sam wishes desperately that he could be what Tom wants, and when he isn’t, he responds in a hurtful but realistic way.
This is an intense, complex exploration of family, love, and gender & sexual identity and we laugh through it, sometimes with eyes filled with tears. It is a commentary on what it means to be a family and respect. It is a book with lots of heart that it shares with Its readers.