BOOK REVIEW: ‘Becoming Emily Novak’ Is A Heartwrenching Coming-Of-Age Story
PLEASE NOTE THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!
“Becoming Emily Novak” by Audrey Beth Stein is a heartwrenching coming-of-age story with themes of love and loss; there was not a chapter where I did not shed a tear or two.
Stein starts the story with a young Emily at her grandfather’s funeral. While I am not Jewish, the description of Emily’s experience at the funeral home, along with the grief she is going through, made my chest hurt. I was reminded of when I lost my own grandfather at 13 years old, the same age as Emily. Young Emily was a relatable, lovable and sometimes sassy character, however, that changed in the following chapters.
After the funeral, the story weaves in and out of Emily’s pre-teen and teenage years, which gives us insight into what’s happening in her personal life. Emily as a teenager is more of a quiet, conservative homebody – I was the opposite, which made relating to her difficult but it was still doable. The big jumps in time and lack of a tangible timeline made following along difficult.
For example, when her younger brother, Zack, gets into trouble, we learn he is 16 years old and born in 1977, which makes the reader believe it is roughly 1993. However, a few pages later, the Novak parents request for him to take the cellphone – while the cellphone prototype was invented in 1973 and became available for the public in the early ‘80s, they were expensive. Cellphones weren’t really common to have until the late ‘90s so it gets a bit confusing.
Emily’s relationship with Zack was rocky during this time, too. The two siblings were opposites; truly night and day. Once he leaves home after high school, Emily is forced to take a look at her life and ask herself: what do I want? Questions such as that one are important to ask ourselves in order to understand who we are and what we want out of life, at least, in that moment.
“Becoming Emily Novak” is billed as an LGBTQ+ YA book and I would agree, sort of. Halfway through the book, the reader meets Emily’s soon-to-be-girlfriend. The buildup was slow and painful, much like most of our “coming out” experiences and for the most part, believable.
While I have no first-hand experience as an out queer person in the ‘90s because I was only born in 1994, I do know that it was much more difficult and queer folks faced more challenges. That being said, I was still disappointed when Emily was dumped and her ex-girlfriend ended up marrying a man.
I hate the “gay until graduation” saying (which, for the record, was never mentioned in the book) – I have no actual proof but I believe it’s rooted in anti-bisexual beliefs. But that’s just a working theory.
However, I do think “Becoming Emily Novak” is a conversational piece about coming out later in life.
There’s more to the story, of course, but I’ll leave that for you to read yourself.
To purchase “Becoming Emily Novak” by Audrey Beth Stein, visit the Good Reads page to find links when it's released on Jan. 31, 2023.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is not an affiliate link and Queer on the Street does not receive any type of payment for this review.