In this post, Priscilla wants to talk about I Wish You All The Best by Mason Deaver. This book is an honest and heartfelt portrait of coming out in the context of difficult and/or abusive family dynamics. The main character also wrestles with symptoms of anxiety and depression and starts therapy in the story.
Please note that this blog post contains spoilers!
Mental health issues covered: detailed anxiety and panic attacks, detailed depressive episodes, suicide ideation
Additional content warnings for the book itself: parental abuse (emotional and physical), misgendering (purposefully and accidentally), transphobia, homophobia, underage drinking
About the Book
When Ben De Backer comes out to their parents as nonbinary, they’re thrown out of their house and forced to move in with their estranged older sister, Hannah, and her husband, Thomas, whom Ben has never even met. Struggling with an anxiety disorder compounded by their parents’ rejection, they come out only to Hannah, Thomas, and their therapist and try to keep a low profile in a new school.
But Ben’s attempts to survive the last half of senior year unnoticed are thwarted when Nathan Allan, a funny and charismatic student, decides to take Ben under his wing. As Ben and Nathan’s friendship grows, their feelings for each other begin to change, and what started as a disastrous turn of events looks like it might just be a chance to start a happier new life.
About the Author
Born and raised in a small North Carolina town, Mason Deaver is an award-nominated, bestselling author and designer living in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Besides writing, they’re an active fan of horror movies and video games. As you can see from the photo above, they’re a big fan of plants as well.
Ben De Backer is non-binary (pronouns: they and them). We meet Ben first when they are filled with hope and anxiety as they prepare to come out to their parents. This soon turns into a disaster, and Ben is out in the streets, barefoot and alone, on the phone to a sister they haven’t seen in ten years. As the story unfolds, we see Ben as a talented artist, and a quiet teenager who is warm and funny once they feel safe. We see the toll it takes to stay in the closet and be misgendered (constantly by those who don’t know, and sometimes inadvertently by the people who know and are trying).
Forging new relationships
After they are kicked out of their parents’ house, Ben is taken in by their older sister, Hannah, and her husband, Thomas Waller. Hannah left home without a warning on her graduation night ten years ago, and she and Ben have not been in touch. Ben came out to both Hannah and Thomas as part of explaining why they have been kicked out of home. Both are accepting, and throughout the story they are careful about using the right pronouns and words. However, there are moments where they fall back to gendered assumptions (like when Hannah walks directly to the men’s section when she takes Ben shopping). I really enjoyed the portrayal of this sibling relationship: there are raw emotions bubbling under the surface about that ten years of absence, and when Hannah and Ben finally talk about those emotions, it is a powerful scene. I also appreciate that it is clear one conversation wouldn’t resolve everything, but they love each other and are trying.
Ben transfers to a new school, where they meet Nathan Allan, a charismatic and kind student who is determined to befriend Ben. Ben, still reeling from their parents’ rejection, refuses to come out to anyone at their new school, and initially prefers to keep to themselves. Over time though, Ben and Nathan’s friendship grows into something more. Their relationship is so lovely; Nathan is such a sunshine boy, and is supportive while also respecting Ben’s boundaries. In addition to Nathan, Ben becomes good friends with Meleika and Sophie as well. When Ben is ready to come out, they are all supportive.
The role of therapy
Often, when we meet a character in therapy, they are already in the middle of it. Here, we get to see Ben consider the idea of therapy with all the trepidation that entails. I was pleased to see that Ben’s psychiatrist explained the limits of confidentiality and reiterated it to Hannah. I also liked that the psychiatrist didn’t tell Ben what to do when they had to make a decision about their relationship with their parents; she explored the options with them and reflected on the emotions with them instead.
The anxiety and depression Ben experiences is also well-written. As the book is written in first person, we get insight into Ben’s thought spirals and the sense of panic that can accompany them. When they experience depression, the sense of Ben folding into himself and falling into darkness was palpable. In our review podcast episode of Thirteen Reasons Why, we talked about how important it is to have more stories featuring hope, not just stories of tragedy. I Wish You All the Best doesn’t gloss over the dark and difficult parts, but it is ultimately hopeful.
Final thoughts and star rating
I Wish You All the Best is honest about the heartbreak and rejection that can happen when you come out to the people you love, but it is also clear that it is possible to find people who love you just as you are. Ben is a well-developed character, and their emotions are palpable: the build-up of anxiety in one particular scene made me feel as suffocated as Ben did.
I love the portrayal of the complicated dynamic between Ben and their sister, and Ben’s feelings about their parents. It is not always easy to walk away from our families, even when they’ve been awful to us, just as it’s also not always easy either to forgive the mistakes of those who are generally loving towards us.
The book highlights that even open-minded, well-meaning people have a lot of to learn and unlearn. This resonates with me: I think of myself as inclusive, and I understood ‘they/them’ can refer to a singular person even before I knew much about gender fluidity. And yet, the number of time I have to correct the pronouns I was using for Ben while writing this review was ridiculous. While it shouldn’t be left up to non-binary people to do the emotional labour of explaining these things to people like me, I think it is important that we have more stories featuring and written by non-binary individuals. Representations can lead to understanding, which leads to acceptance, which can then lead to celebration.
The reason this is not a 5-star book for me is because at times the book loses my attention. Sometimes the plot just loses momentum, and it feels like we are just rolling along. Also, while Nathan is so lovely, I kind of wish it was acknowledged that Ben’s withdrawal from their friendship during their depressive episode would have been difficult for Nathan too. However, overall I think this is a book that’s worth reading for the story as well as the representations.
Relevant mental health resources:
- National Alliance on Mental Illness has information about the mental health challenges LGBTQIA+ people face and how to seek help. Please note that the resources linked on their page are specific to the US.
- In Australia, there are mental health services specific for LGBTQIA+ people such as Queerspace and QLife.
- Reachout.com provides a range of resources for young people wanting to learn more about gender and sexual identities.
More stories like I Wish You All The Best
- Epic Reads has this list of other Young Adult books with trans or non-binary characters.
- LGBT Reads also has a list of books featuring non-binary characters.
Voices from Lived Experience
- Alyssa at Reading While Queer wrote: “Ben is going to hit hard for a lot of nonbinary readers – in a really good way. I saw myself in the struggle of being out to family during your high school years, in Ben’s anxiety disorder that they didn’t even know they had (too real), and especially in the dangerous waters which are shopping for clothes while trans. The frustration, the passive acceptance, the assumptions of those around you that seem impossible to surmount…it’s all laid out so clearly that had I read I Wish You All the Best when I was in high school, I might have realized I was nonbinary much earlier.”