Nazemian, Abdi. “Like a Love Story”, Balzer & Bray, 2019.
New York City, 1989
In 1989, Reza an Iranian boy, moved to New York City with his mother to live with his stepfather and stepbrother. He’s terrified that someone will guess that he is gay, something he doesn’t want to acknowledge himself even though he knows that it is true. He does not know much about being gay but he has seen the media’s images of men dying of AIDS.
Judy is a fashion designer who worships her uncle Stephen, a gay man with AIDS who is an activist and member of ACT UP. Judy falls for Reza and they start dating. Art is Judy’s best friend and he is their school’s only out and proud teen. He has no intention of being who his conservative parents want him to be nor does he want to be and so he rebels by documenting the AIDS crisis through his photographs.
As Reza and Art become close, Reza struggles to find a way out of his deception that won’t break Judy’s heart and ruin his most meaningful friendship. Three characters discover their inner truths at a terrible time for the gay community. It is the height of the 1980s AIDS crisis and we meet “warriors, divas, artists, queens, individuals, activists, trend setters, and anyone searching for the courage to be themselves.”
Friends here become family and we see a society that is not always compassionate to those who need compassion. If you lived through the epidemic like I did, you know what I am speaking about. Abdi Nazemian deftly shows how we can only move forward by examining and embracing our past. Anger and injustice indeed can help make for a better and more hopeful tomorrow.
While the book is about the LGBTQ community, it is not a book just for the community. This is a book about life with real characters who experience their own sexual awakening. Reza, Art, and Judy are all going through self-discovery. It is really intense for Reza and Art because of the fear and stigma that comes with being gay at a time when AIDS is everywhere and feared and gays are regarded as outcasts. They have Judy and her Uncle Stephen to help them as they accept themselves and face the battles ahead.
Nazemian kept me weeping as I read not just because of the plot but also because of the beauty of language and the description of a heartbreaking and uncertain time in our history.
Reza learns to accept himself and Nazemian perfectly captured the fear of that era and what it was like to be a young gay man. Through the characters, Reza grew and blossomed.
Nazemian has written a “love letter to queerness, self-expression, and individuality (also Madonna) that never shies away from the ever-present fear within the queer community of late ’80s New York”. In doing so, he gave us feelings of “hope, love, courage, pride, and awe for the many people who fought for love and self-expression in the face of discrimination, cruelty, and death.”