And They Lived...
By Steven Salvatore
Narrated by Kirt Graves
YA LGBTQ+ Romance
And They lived... follows Chase Arthurs, a chubby, aspiring college animations student who seeks to discover not only his expression in his art, but also how he wishes to express himself both through sexuality and gender identity. Can he be nonbinary and go by He/Him? Is he expected to be skinny and androgynous just to actually be nonbinary? And is it okay if that changes? These are all questions Chase asks himself throughout the novel as he makes his way through his first semester of college.
After an encounter with Jack Reed, an aspiring creative writer, at the lake, the two of them find themselves falling head over heels with each other. But will Chase’s struggles with self-worth and body dysmorphia get in the way? Will Jack’s more seemingly traditional parents, who have no idea their son is struggling with understanding his sexuality, accept him? Along the way, we meet Chase’s best friend, an awesome set of comical characters and a few ghosts of his pasts.
And They Lived... is actually one of the perfect representations of freshman college students that I found in a YA book in a while—a mix of incredibly inspired and ambitious before the burn out, a sprinkle of overdramatized situations, and just the right amount of cringe. The characters never felt older, and never younger, than they actually were, which is a good thing because college students, I find, are a bit tricky to write and make believable without making it too stereotypical or dramatic.
What really balanced these different plates was Salvatore’s careful crafting of pace, comedy and introspection. While I was sometimes belly laughing at some of the crazy things the characters would say, especially Chase’s roommate and icon Benny, Salvatore perfectly uses these moments to characterize their characters and give us snippets of their personality through dialogue. It adds a healthy layer of kiddish humor without ever needing to change gears too quickly. In other words, the complexity is perfectly laced throughout the entire story without ever feeling like the comedy or tension or whatever is out of place and out of pace.
I was relieved to see such a sex positive story for college students, without falling too deeply into the scarier horrors of dealing with body dysmorphia. While it’s of course okay to deal with those topics, Salvatore has mentioned that And They Lived... was their way of giving their past self a happy ending. So, And They Lived... is a happy ending and some hope for not LGBTQ+ people navigating their identity but also people who struggle with their confidence whether it be body dysmorphia or something else. And while the ending may feel a bit happily ever after, it still makes readers feel like there’s work to be done, hence highlighting the most important message of the novel: that the most important part of a fairy tale is not the “happily ever after” but that these characters lived, and continue to live and grow, as there are always new adventures that will await us.