Always the Almost

Always the Almost
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Release Date
February 14, 2023
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A trans pianist makes a New Year's resolution on a frozen Wisconsin night to win regionals and win back his ex, but a new boy complicates things in Edward Underhill's heartfelt debut YA rom-dram, Always the Almost.

Sixteen-year-old trans boy Miles Jacobson has two New Year’s resolutions: 1) win back his ex-boyfriend (and star of the football team) Shane McIntyre, and 2) finally beat his slimy arch-nemesis at the Midwest’s biggest classical piano competition. But that’s not going to be so easy. For one thing, Shane broke up with Miles two weeks after Miles came out as trans, and now Shane’s stubbornly ignoring him, even when they literally bump into each other. Plus, Miles’ new, slightly terrifying piano teacher keeps telling him that he’s playing like he “doesn’t know who he is”—whatever that means.

Then Miles meets the new boy in town, Eric Mendez, a proudly queer cartoonist from Seattle who asks his pronouns, cares about art as much as he does—and makes his stomach flutter. Not what he needs to be focusing on right now. But after Eric and Miles pretend to date so they can score an invite to a couples-only Valentine’s party, the ruse turns real with a kiss, which is also definitely not in the plan. If only Miles could figure out why Eric likes him so much. After all, it's not like he’s cool or confident or comfortable in his own skin. He’s not even good enough at piano to get his fellow competitors to respect him, especially now, as Miles. Nothing’s ever been as easy for him as for other people—other boys. He’s only ever been almost enough.

So why, when he’s with Eric, does it feel like the only person he’s ever really not been enough himself?

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1 review
fantastic YA contemporary
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ALWAYS THE ALMOST is a compelling and heartfelt YA contemporary. Miles has recently come out as trans, and while he feels like he is being his authentic self, he struggles with the way others view him. While his parents are on the surface accepting, his mother is excited to have a son but wishes he weren't also gay, and his father barely talks to him anymore and leaves feminist books for him. His best friends are great, but they are also dating each other, leaving Miles feeling like a third wheel. His ex-boyfriend is particularly a sore spot, as he broke up with Miles when he came out to him, and Miles is having a hard time turning those feelings off - he feels that he is still the same person he was before.

With the new year, Miles makes some resolutions - to convince his ex to give him a second try, and to win the piano competition where he typically comes in second to Cameron, a particularly pretentious and obnoxious player. This year, everything is on the line for scholarships that will allow him to attend college for music though as well.

Then, there is a new kid at school, Eric, who seems easy to befriend when they meet in the auditorium while Miles uses the piano there to practice. They are quick friends, and when they fake dating to get an invite to the big Valentine's dance, they quickly realize they have some feelings too. Eric is very accepting of Miles and pretty perfect - but Miles is still struggling with lingering feelings over Shane. At the same time, he is working with an intimidating new piano teacher to try to capture himself and his emotions to shine at the upcoming tristate competition.

What I loved: There is so many fantastic elements to this story. For one thing, I did not realize how much I could care about classical piano and related competitions. Even for readers without much musical background, the magic and beauty of the music they create and the way that Miles comes to understand himself better through the music makes this something really special. Along those lines, his new teacher, Stefania, though she seemed intimidating at first, has a lot of wisdom to drop, and she really helps Miles to be the best competitor, friend, and person he can be. She ended up being one of my favorite characters in the book.

Of course, Miles and Eric are also really fantastic characters as well. Miles and his struggles felt so real and compelling. He is dealing with some cyber-bullying from competitors, as well as the difficulty of high school romance, making mistakes, and arguing with friends. He can be selfish at times, but he genuinely cares and wants to do the right thing, with his personality shining through the story. It would be impossible not to see parts of him in yourself and want all the best for him - even if it's not the best he immediately sees. Eric is another really compelling character, who is dealing with his own past trauma around bullying. He is accepting and strong, and I particularly loved seeing his interactions with his younger sister, Nina, who has Down's Syndrome. He provides a safe space for Miles that Miles really needs, and he is just such a giving and loving person. His arc was secondary to Miles, but I loved the way his story developed as well.

There are some really great, thought-provoking themes in the story around friendship and what this really means, the critical importance of accepting people as they are, finding your joy, LGBTQIA+ rights, making mistakes and owning up to them, falling in love, being true to yourself and the joy that comes from being authentic, and all the challenges of being a teen, such as parental expectations, plans for the future, and high school cliques. These themes are woven through a heartfelt and emotional plot with plenty of smiles and happy moments amidst some light drama. This was really a feel-good book with compelling characters and messages that will resonate with YA readers.

Final verdict: ALWAYS THE ALMOST is a heartfelt and delightful YA contemporary about the magic of music, being true to yourself, and finding your people. Highly recommend this book - it is sure to leave readers with a grin from ear to ear!
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