ARC Review: Right Where I Left You by Julian Winters

”People don’t just fall in love. No, we stumble and trip and collapse face-first into it.”

School’s out, senior year is over, and Isaac Martin is ready to kick off summer. His last before heading off to college in the fall where he won’t have his best friend, Diego. Where—despite his social anxiety—he’ll be left to make friends on his own. Knowing his time with Diego is limited, Isaac enacts a foolproof plan: snatch up a pair of badges for the epic comic convention, Legends Con, and attend his first ever Teen Pride. Just him and Diego. The way it should be. But when an unexpected run-in with Davi—Isaac’s old crush—distracts him the day tickets go on sale, suddenly he’s two badges short of a perfect summer. Even worse, now he’s left making it up to Diego by hanging with him and his gamer buddies. Decidedly NOT part of the original plan.

It’s not all bad, though. Some of Diego’s friends turn out to be pretty cool, and when things with Davi start heating up, Isaac is almost able to forget about his Legends Con blunder. Almost. Because then Diego finds out what really happened that day with Davi, and their friendship lands on thin ice. Isaac assumes he’s upset about missing the convention, but could Diego have other reasons for avoiding Isaac?

Notice: thank you to Penguin Teen for sending an advanced reader’s copy of this book through the Penguin Teen Partner Program. This does not affect my opinion.

This is a coming-of-age novel about two teenage boys who are right out of high school and on the cusp of the next stage of their lives. One (Isaac) will be attending college a few hours away from home and everyone he knows. His best friend (Diego) has decided against going to college with Isaac and instead is set on pursuing a full-time gaming career. With a fork in the road in sight, these two do what all of us would do: try to make the most out of the final summer they have together.

Winters does a great job of setting the stage for readers by providing us with enough context that makes the depth of Isaac and Diego’s friendship believable. This is especially important for such a character-driven novel that does not place significant attention elsewhere (world-building, developing a complex plot, etc). Because the plot of the book follows a simple arc and the book takes place in a real-world setting, we’re able to spend the majority of the time inside of Isaac’s head exploring his inner emotional world.

I appreciate this book because it read very sincerely and genuinely. I developed an emotional attachment and investment in Isaac and Diego and their respective struggles. Though I would overall consider this book pretty “light” in terms of subject matter, it does touch on an important theme in its subplots: broken family dynamics as a result of infidelity. This often spills over into the interactions we see between Isaac and Diego and shapes how Isaac views the world/the people around him. Things inevitably heat up between Isaac and Diego as side characters are introduced and tensions rise. The conflict between the two characters feels very authentic, and it surprised me to read Isaac follow a thought process I the reader had the main conflict unfolded:

“Suddenly, the only thing I can hear in my head are Diego’s words from yesterday: “I’m happy for you, okay?” Of course, he’s happy as fuck for me. He’s met someone and doesn’t have to feel guilty about ditching me if I’ve got Davi to occupy my time.”

In all, Right Where I Left You simply felt like a sweet summer read. If you’re interested in a character-driven book with a simple plot and themes of complicated family dynamics, comic book craze, queer pride, and a whole bunch of coming-of-age angst, this is the book for you.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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