Hello, friends! Today is my stop on the TBR & Beyond Tours for Anything But Fine by Tobias Madden and I’m excited to share my review and a journal spread I made with some thoughts I had and some images that came to mind while I was reading! 🩰
Special thanks to Page Street Kids for providing an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!
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Goodreads: Anything But Fine
Publisher: Page Street Kids
Publication Date: 29 March 2022
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
All it takes is one missed step for your life to change forever.
Luca Mason knows exactly who he is and what he wants: In six months, he’s going to be accepted into the Australian Ballet School, leave his fancy private high school, and live his life as a star of the stage—at least that’s the plan until he falls down a flight of stairs and breaks his foot in a way he can never recover from.
With his dancing dreams dead on their feet, Luca loses his performing arts scholarship and transfers to the local public school, leaving behind all his ballet friends and his whole future on stage.
The only bright side is that he strikes up unlikely friendships with the nicest (and nerdiest) girl at his new school, Amina, and the gorgeous, popular, and (reportedly) straight school captain, Jordan Tanaka-Jones.
As Luca’s bond with Jordan grows stronger, he starts to wonder: who is he without ballet? And is he setting himself up for another heartbreak?
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Tobias is an author and editor from Sydney, Australia. His debut young adult fiction novel, ANYTHING BUT FINE, is out now in Australia and New Zealand (Penguin Teen), and coming to the US 25 January 2022 (Page Street YA).
Originally from Ballarat, Tobias worked for ten years as a performer, touring Australia and New Zealand with musicals such as Mary Poppins, CATS, Singin’ in the Rain, and Guys and Dolls. In 2019, he edited and published UNDERDOG, the first #LoveOzYA short story anthology for previously unpublished Aussie young adult fiction writers. Also in 2019, he wrote the cabaret show Siblingship, which played to sold out audiences in Sydney, Melbourne, and Canberra. Tobias is a passionate member of the #LoveOzYA and LGBTQ+ communities, and currently works in publishing as a Digital Marketing Executive and YA Publicist.
TL;DR: This was a well-written and engaging debut and I really enjoyed it! I thought Madden does a wonderful job portraying the experiences and capturing the tumultuous emotions of a young teen whose life was completely turned upside down by an accident. It was wonderful to see Luca figure out who he is without dance while making new friends, trying new things and exploring his first romantic relationship along the way, in this coming-of-age story.
First of all, can we just take a moment to appreciate the beauty of this cover? I love the dancer captured in motion and it made it so easy to imagine Luca as the dancer on the cover and the colour combo is just is so eye-catching too. Stunning!
What I loved:
- The Australian setting. This is more of a personal preference/opinion because I don’t read a lot of books set in Australia but my nostalgia also kicked in because I used to live in Geelong and Melbourne, and when I was still in boarding school, my guardians lived in Ballarat so I’d visit them at the weekend a few times. I find it refreshing to read about a different location even though it’s still a “Western” setting.
- The writing style was really personable and friendly, and it was almost like having a chat with your bestie which made this an incredibly easy and fast read—I flew through the pages and read it in a few hours!
- Luca wasn’t always the most likeable character but he was realistically flawed. I can’t imagine being a teen and having what you’ve worked for from a young age taken away from you because of a life-changing injury. He goes through the various stages of grief and though he doesn’t start his journey by coping in healthy ways, and he mistakes along the way, I thought his was a realistic portrayal of a teenager who’s life has essentially been turned upside down. His struggles as he tries to figure out who he is without dance was well depicted—figuring things out is messy. LIFE is messy and there will be moments where the emotions will overwhelm you but that’s okay. Just don’t give up because things will get better eventually and Luca learned this the hard way at times but he does learn and he comes to appreciate it.
- Luca’s dad was fantastic. His “dad banter” made me laugh a lot and I loved that his relationship with Luca was so open and friendly—although that’s not to say that they didn’t fight cos there were conflicts they had to overcome! But I’m glad he wasn’t an absent parent and he was such a steady presence in Luca’s life. I loved that he was emotionally vulnerable and able to admit to his mistakes, but he was also willing to let Luca grieve and heal in his own way without being overbearing or pushy.
- I also really liked thediversity of the characters, with the LI being half-Japanese and Luca’s new bestie at school being Indonesian. While I wouldn’t say it was the best rep, it’s still pretty rare to see Indonesian rep in any book and that made it all the more enjoyable for me especially because it didn’t feel “tokenistic” because there are a lot of Indonesians in Australia (and vice versa)! 😂
- It’s been a while since I’ve read a contemporary YA so I was surprised by how open this was with sex but I was glad to see it. To be clear, there was no sex but Madden doesn’t downplay Luca’s sexual attraction to Jordan or the way his body reacts whenever his crush is around and I mean, teens are learning about their bodies, exploring their sexuality and having sex, so it was realistic and kinda refreshing to see it being spoken about it so openly here.
What I was on the fence about:
- This was Luca’s story so it makes sense that his character was the most developed but the supporting characters felt a little cookie-cutter at times, and some of the interactions also felt a little… insincere? For example, I liked how Luca tried to be a better friend to Amina by trying to learn about Islam and Ramadan (specifically) but it’d literally take one second for him to get distracted by thoughts of his crush and then he’d completely move on from whatever he was discussing with Amina—it kind of felt shallow.
- The romance… I’m not saying it was bad but I wanted more show and less tell. Luca has an instant crush on Jordan, which is fair enough, but the whole progression of their romance felt quite sudden. It was like at one moment they’d exchanged a couple of words and shared a few vulnerable moments to suddenly “hush hush” hooking-up behind closed doors. They also spend a lot of the book apart, although they’d exchange daily text messages, but thought Luca recaps those moments of getting to know each other, I wish we could’ve seen more of it happening in real-time/on-page.
Overall though, I’m glad that I read this and I thought it was a great coming-of-age story! I loved the way the characters and their high school experiences felt so real, plus, Luca was an easy protagonist to empathise with and I’m glad we got to follow along on his healing journey.
Have you read Anything But Fine or is it on your TBR?