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“Asher Machnik is a teenage boy cursed with a beautiful androgynous face. Guys punch him, girls slag him and by high school he’s developed an intense fear of being touched. Art remains his only escape from an otherwise emotionally empty life. Eulalie Mason is the lonely, tough-talking dyke from school who befriends Ash. The only one to see and accept all of his sides as a loner, a fellow artist and a best friend, she’s starting to wonder if ash is ever going to see all of her…. a + e 4EVER is a graphic novel set in that ambiguous crossroads where love and friendship, boy and girl, straight and gay meet. It goes where few books have ventured, into genderqueer life, where affections aren’t black and white.”

I found this when I was looking for transgender books at a local public library. This book was listed under transgender, though I am not sure why as there are no transgender characters (though it could be very triggering for transgender readers). I am happy it was listed though because I did enjoy the read. There are transgender like experiences because the main male character, Asher or Ash for short, is androgynous looking (which if anyone follows androgynous characters in comics, graphic novels, or manga that means he is most likely male and not experiencing any gender identity disorder). The book opens on a scene where Ash is forced into a bathroom stall and the boys who are attacking him want to check what sex he is. This is literally the first plot: the main character almost being raped.

The art style appeals to the goth kid in me that loves Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and Poppy Z. Brite, but at times it makes the words very hard to read and the words are very much an important part of the story. It reads the same way a Sandman comic or a Deathnote manga would. The plot is pretty much all in the words, but the pictures add to it and shouldn’t be ignored. I didn’t think I would like it as I have had a very hard time liking graphic novels aimed at teens. However this was much darker than I was expecting. So dark and graphic that I will give readers a trigger warning of molestation, drug use, drug-induced dubious consent (one of the more graphic sex scenes), rape (same sex scene as above but later in the scene after the main character has clearly said no), and teenage sexuality.

I had planned on reading part of this book in the library to see if I liked it before I was going to walk all the way home with it, but I ended up sitting in the library and reading it all in one sitting. It was a captivating story that had great character development (something I strongly support) and had a plot that was familiar (teenage drama anyone). The plot had a great element of homophobia in a way that it was shown to be clearly wrong, but it also had a realistic response from the characters. Instead of it being the central plot, it was literally just something that happened to them at school that they dealt with if they felt like it.

I was upset that yet again the bisexual character was a cheater (he never clearly defined himself as such, but he was attracted to both men and women so for simplicity sake bisexual will be used though many other labels can be used as the stereotype of a cheater is applied to any label that allows attraction or love of multiple sexes or genders). This is a stereotype that is almost constantly perpetuated by media so I am not shocked it is here, but it still was aggravating considering how well the other elements were handled. I was also upset about the really ambiguous plot of incest that was never fleshed out. That could have been a graphic novel in itself and I would have loved to read more into that, but it was just thrown in randomly then pretty much forgotten.

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4 out of 5 stars. I would recommend this book.

You can buy this book here.

~Isaiah

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