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Can't Take That Away

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A debut novel about a genderqueer teen who finds the courage to stand up and speak out for equality when they are discriminated against by their high school administration.

Carey Parker dreams of being a diva, and bringing the house down with song. But despite their talent, emotional scars from an incident with a homophobic classmate and their grandmother's spiraling dementia make it harder and harder for Carey to find their voice.

Then Carey meets Cris, a singer/guitarist who makes Carey feel seen for the first time in their life. With the rush of a promising new romantic relationship, Carey finds the confidence to audition for the role of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, in the school musical, setting off a chain reaction of prejudice by Carey's tormentor and others in the school. It's up to Carey, Cris, and their friends to defend their rights--and they refuse to be silenced.

Told in alternating chapters with identifying pronouns, debut author Steven Salvatore's Can't Take That Away is both a romance, and an affirmation of self-identity.


First published March 9, 2021

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About the author

Steven Salvatore

4 books362 followers
Steven Salvatore is a gay, genderqueer author, and writing professor with an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. They are the founder and CEO of Queerative Writers, a virtual creative workshop series for LGBTQ+ aspiring writers. They are the critically acclaimed author of young adult novels AND THEY LIVED…, CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY, and NO PERFECT PACES: A Novel. Their adult romance debut THE BOYFRIEND SUBSCRIPTION is forthcoming March 2024. They are represented by Jess Regel of Helm Literary Agency.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 417 reviews
Profile Image for Reading_ Tamishly.
4,458 reviews2,406 followers
February 21, 2022
Accurate representation of fluff and stuff!

So glad I picked up this book on its publication day!

Yes, it's my reader dream come true to read a new book on the day it's out and devour it and actually fall in love with it!

Is it a debut?? I mean, is it a debut?!

Wow. I am so going to read EVERYTHING Steven Salvatore writes (author love gets more real!).

The writing represents perfectly the age of the characters (the young adult main characters, Carey and Chris), the adult characters, the strange characters (bullies, homophobes, the fakes and the fries).

Character development is strong. The chemistry (calm down, petunia...) got me like (Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys all out together kinda heart squeezing) all the way.

The plot seems to be a bit convenient at times for the characters but, you know, if a person is THAT amazing who are we to stop them.

Yes, the story wrapped me in its little finger the entire time without a doubt. And love is never logical. Bah!

Quite importantly, the multicultural representation has been brought up so well. Mental health issues and therapy have been discussed quite realistically.

Warning for loss of a parent.

I love the damn book starting from its cover to its very last page of acknowledgements and copyright page (because I ...... ship them so much!).

Author, I need an adaptation. Like with all the music and lyrics and that red-haired, sky-blue eyed guy with all the damn dreamy freckles.

Like pretty please.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,514 reviews29.5k followers
November 22, 2021
Can't Take That Away , Steven Salvatore's debut novel, is an absolutely fantastic book about the courage to be yourself and be proud of yourself that left me in a complete emotional puddle.

Carey is a genderqueer teenager who is finally starting to feel comfortable in their own skin. Coming out to friends and family was difficult (because they were essentially blackmailed into doing so) but apart from some homophobic bullying from a fellow student and a teacher, they’re trying to find the joy in life. They have a fiercely loyal best friend, a tremendously supportive mother, and an understanding English teacher, all of whom have Carey's back.

What Carey wants more than anything is to be a diva, like their idol (and namesake), Mariah Carey. They dream of bringing the house down with their voice. They have the talent to do it but they don’t like to call attention to themselves. But after they meet Cris, their burgeoning relationship gives Carey the confidence they need to audition for the school musical and play the part of Elphaba in Wicked .

But some in the school don’t think Carey should play that part and they’ll stop at nothing to create trouble. Carey, with the support of their best friends and family, must decide if they’re willing to let their dream be killed or if they are ready to stand up and make change happen. At the same time they have to struggle with doubts about their relationship with Cris and deal with the rapid decline of their grandmother, who was Carey's biggest fan and musical inspiration.

Can't Take That Away works on so many levels. It's funny, thought-provoking, moving, and so emotional. Salvatore brings such life and complexity to the characters, and Carey's grandmother reminded me so much of my own paternal grandmother, who was my biggest supporter. (I still miss her even though she's been gone almost 16 years.) Another touch that was so incredible is that each chapter of the book is headed by the pronouns Carey identifies with on that particular day.

God, I loved this so much!! Storygram Tours and Bloomsbury YA provided me a complimentary advance copy of Can't Take That Away in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making it available!

Check out my list of the best books I read in 2020 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2021/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2020.html.

Check out my list of the best books of the last decade at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2020/01/my-favorite-books-of-decade.html.

See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com.

Follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/the.bookishworld.of.yrralh/.
Profile Image for Adri.
986 reviews799 followers
October 21, 2021
CWs: instances of homophobia, bullying, and misgendering; use of homophobic slurs; exploration of gender dysphoria; mentions of suicide ideation; allusions to depression and anxiety; exploration of familial death and grief; descriptions of degenerative illness (Alzheimer's); homophobic attacks and hate crimes; physical assault; graphic description of injury

This is a tough book for me to review, because I enjoyed it and I see its importance, but I also struggled with it a bit. It's described as "empowering" and "emotional," which it definitely is, but it also asks the reader to endure a great deal of trauma and queer trauma in order to get there, and I feel it's important to recognize that that will be too big of an ask for some readers, which is fair.

I want to start off by saying that stories that honestly explore queer pain and queer trauma are just as needed as stories that center queer joy. I am not interested in censoring anyone or suggesting that there's a "certain amount" of trauma that one story or one life can contain before it's "too much." That is not true. There is no metric by which we can definitively say how much trauma is "enough" trauma. That's not how life works, and I'm not interested in policing those experiences in any way.

That said, let's start with what I enjoyed. First of all, this story wonderfully celebrates a genderqueer character who uses he/she/they pronouns (mostly they/them as default, which I will be using in this review). I think the story really captures Carey's experience of fluidity, and how on the one hand, their gender variance makes them more powerful and beautiful, but on the other hand it makes them feel like an "inconvenience" to the people around them, because it can feel like every day is another coming out. In the story, they use the mechanic of wearing different colored bracelets to telegraph their gender expression for the day, but they also realize that it kind of sucks to have to depend on that kind of reductive mechanic. There's a lot of nuance in how Carey understands and explores their gender, and I really appreciated that.

Carey also acknowledges their privilege as a white, male-assumed person. Even though they don't identify as a man in any way, that's how people perceive them more often than not, and that comes with power and privilege, even if they don't "want" to claim those things. That is, in part, what makes it ideal for them to be "the face" of this social campaign calling for queer-protective rights and regulations to be installed within their school district and allow them to play the role of Elphaba. Again, I found that acknowledgement to be very nuanced, because "passing" does have an effect on power dynamics, both within and outside of the queer community.

I also appreciate how the story centers mental health and normalizes therapy. Carey has a strong relationship with their therapist, whose help they sought after dealing with depression and suicide ideation, and I enjoyed seeing their regular appointments being documented throughout the book. Mental health support and therapy can still very much be seen as "taboo" topics, when actually the process of going through therapy is healthy and normal. I appreciate how the story seeks to destigmatize therapy, and allows the reader to see what that process can look like, which could be invaluable to young readers, especially. That process also helps Carey parse through things they're facing in the story, and helps them put a name to what they're feeling and what they're really reacting to.

Another element that is somewhat of a rarity in YA fiction is the way the story makes room for contentious and complicated personal relationships. Throughout the book, Carey is hurt by people who are their friends and they also, in turn, hurt other people. Humans are not perfect, and sadly we're not born knowing how to healthily express our feelings and openly communicate. Sometimes our mistakes are what communicate our insecurities or our pain to the people around us. Mistakes are part of life, and I appreciate that this story gives its characters space to reconcile, to talk out their concerns and take active steps to make up for their mistakes, but also that it affords the characters grace and second chances. While the characters are not perfect (and who is?) they are still able to grow, which is far more important.

There's a lot to enjoy about this story. It has strong found family elements, it takes readers step-by-step through how to organize a social movement and engage in peaceful protest, it effectively explores the importance of safe learning environments, and it has a really sweet (if somewhat messy) romance where neither queer character has to "earn" the other person's love. It's all about finding and embracing your voice, even when everything stacked against you, and finding strength in community, and I think that's wonderful. The story is relatively well-paced and keeps you invested as the stakes get higher and higher.

All that said, I still had some problems with the story. As I touched on before, the ratio between queer joy/euphoria and queer trauma felt a little bit off to me. Again, being bullied, being harassed, being misgendered, being targeted are all extremely real and valid experiences that many queer teens, especially, are forced to endure just for being themselves. I'm not here to say the traumatic elements are "unrealistic," because they're not. But it's hard for me to see myself recommending this book to a young reader, for example, and promising them an uplifting and empowering queer story, because there is so much heavy content to wade through in order to get there. I don't expect everyone to want to dive head-first into a very triggering story that explicitly discusses depressive episodes, detailed suicide ideation, death threats, hate crimes, physical assault, public outings and cyberbullying, etc. etc. While it is a hopeful story that's ultimately working towards a happy ending, I see how it could potentially feel tiresome for a queer reader to have to sit with for any length of time.

Another major issue I had with the story was the positioning of the supporting cast, especially in terms of racial diversity. Like I said before, Carey is white and most of their close friends are white. The exception are two friends that they make over the course of the story: Phoebe, a young Black pansexual theater prodigy, and Blanca, a queer Latinx journalist for the school paper. I can't say whether it was a conscious choice on the author's part, but it bothered me that a majority of the labor in this story is undertaken by both Phoebe and Blanca.

It's not a stretch to say that if it were not for them and their specific experience and expertise, the whole #LetCareySing movement would never have taken off. Phoebe is doing a majority of the organization, she is the one who comes up with the plan, she plays a large part in staging the protests and petitioning the school district. Blanca, as a school journalist, has insider information to the school's publications and also has intel on a "shadow gossip site" that shares unsanctioned, often slanderous stories about students, as written anonymously by other students. She is also the one who has connections that would allow her to potentially bring that site down and name its creators. Were it not for her connections and her expertise, it's unlikely that the offenders in this story would have faced any kind of lasting consequences.

I love both Phoebe and Blanca as characters, but not only did they feel like token Black and brown characters, but they were the ones assuming almost all the labor of Carey's movement. Without their labor, #LetCareySing would not have been possible, and it is their labor that allows for Carey to be "the face" of the movement while relying heavily on their friends' work. On the one hand, I love seeing the queer community come together for each other, I love seeing friends wanting to help their friends, and I understand that the rights and protections they're fighting for have larger implications that will undoubtedly impact all of the students in the school, not just Carey. On the other hand, it's a reinforcement of how white queer folks garner recognition and come to be seen as "groundbreaking trailblazers" when in reality, they're standing on the shoulders and the labor of Black and brown communities. Regardless of intention, that's how the group dynamic is positioned, and it doesn't sit well with me.

(There were also some instances of Carey and their white friends casually appropriating AAVE, and it's never really challenged on the page. Phoebe says once that it "doesn't really work for them," but it's never brought up again. I couldn't figure out where this should fit into the review, but I thought it should be noted.)

To top it all off, I found the climax of the story and the resolution of the plot points to be somewhat unsatisfying. I won't say much to avoid spoilers, but part of the #LetCareySing movement is trying to hold a violent, homophobic teacher to account and potentially getting him to resign, and the way his storyline wrapped up felt a little bit like a cop out. And after all the trauma, all the pain, all the violence, I wanted the pay-off to be powerful, incredible, and over-the-top, but the story wraps up relatively quickly without really lingering on the joy or the triumph. I feel like a natural bookend to the story would be getting to see the production of the musical, which is what incites the whole story in the first place, but the entire production ends up being glossed over. I felt like there was a lot of missed opportunities when it came to resolving various plot points, and I think that boils down to how the story is frontloaded with all this trauma to the point where, spatially, it doesn't leave room for the ending to fully play out.

So I'm conflicted. This story is important, it does a lot of good and is eventually working its way towards hope and empowerment, and it centers a queer identity that we don't see nearly enough of in media and fiction. I had such high hopes for it and enjoyed many aspects of the story, but the way everything played out just left me feeling a little stranded as a reader. This is not to say this is a story that's not worth telling or reading, but just that it has its pros and its cons and I can see it being a polarizing book. I think my concerns with the story are valid, but I can also appreciate what the story was attempting to do.

This is a rare case where I won't be assigning a star rating. Hopefully what I've said here is enough to help you decide whether or not this book is for you. I'm still looking forward to whatever Steven Salvatore writes next, because I think they hold a lot of potential and talent, even if this book didn't end up being my favorite.
Profile Image for Marieke (mariekes_mesmerizing_books).
509 reviews337 followers
June 3, 2023
I’m not a Mariah Carey fan; I relate to Cris’s moody pop way more, but OMG, this book, this book, this book. After reading both this book and And They Lived …, I can wholeheartedly say that Steven Salvatore is one of my most favorite YA authors.

What touches me most in their stories is that they make people feel seen. Not only when it comes to gender identity (or body dysmorphia as in And They Lived …), but it’s the overall picture, to be able to love yourself and be who you want to be. As a grown-up woman, I still struggle with these things and keep parts of myself hidden. Simply because I know people have opinions, and I don’t want to get hurt. And, even though I don’t want to, other people’s opinions still matter to me.

So while I read Can’t Take that Away, my heart opened and flooded with (self)love, and it made me feel brave. My eyes got suspiciously wet at times, and I rooted for Carey and Cris and their friends so much.

If you haven’t read any of Steven’s books yet and are self-conscious, doubting your gender, sexuality, or whatever, or just want to read a superbly written book, please, please pick up their stories.

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Profile Image for Anniek.
1,870 reviews694 followers
November 11, 2020
My new goal in life is to do whatever it takes to protect Carey.

This is such a messy contemporary, and brilliantly so. It just feels so incredibly real, and at the same time all of the bad things are balanced out by all the good, affirming, supportive things. Really, there's even on-page therapy!! Which means that even though this has its hard moments, it was ultimately a really comforting and empowering read.

CWs: suicidal ideation, depression, assault, transphobia, misgendering, homophobia/queerphobia, bullying, Alzheimer's, death of a grandparent
Profile Image for Virginia Ronan ♥ Herondale ♥.
547 reviews34.7k followers
Want to read
March 9, 2021
I don't know about you, but I'm game!
A book with a genderqueer character and a strong message will always land on my TBR! 🌈
Plus, there's a musical trope too and I'm such a sucker for them! XD

This sounds truly amazing! =))
Profile Image for Heron.
272 reviews32 followers
March 3, 2021
Can’t Take That Away by Steven Salvatore was one of my most anticipated 2021 releases. A genderqueer diva using the power of song for self exploration and affirmation? Yeah, that’s my brand. Plus, I’m always on the lookout for books with genderqueer and genderfluid representation since it’s still one of those identities rare to see discussed and explored within the LGBTQIA2S+ umbrella. However, I ended up with really complicated feelings about this novel that I will do my best to outline below.

First, let’s start with the good, since there were absolutely awesome things about Can’t Take That Away. The genderqueer representation was one of my favourite things about this novel. Each chapter opens up with the set of pronouns the MC Carey uses for the period of time discussed in the chapter, and there are tons of introspective and thoughtful interrogations by Carey of their gender. The fact that their friends are, by and large, accepting and affirming of their gender is really sweet and cool to see. Carey definitely exists outside the binary authentically, and that was wonderful for me to see, as I’m sure it will be for others.

Queer characters being allowed to be messy and flawed is another favourite of mine, and we got to see so much of that in Can’t Take That Away. The romance, while I’d maybe dispute the ‘swoonworthy’ adjective on the cover copy, definitely felt raw and vulnerable. Neither Carey nor Cris had to perform or hide parts of themselves, for better or for worse, and when so many stories involving queer romance rely on those sorts of interactions, it was good to see the realism. Therapy is incredibly normalized in this book to help support Carey through their struggles, and we do love to see that. Frankly, I’d love to see it in so many more contemporary YA novels, particularly ones where marginalized voices of all sorts can be supported and affirmed in a professional sense. There’s also lots of found family and strength of community in this novel.

However, there can be such a thing as an overwhelming amount of trauma. I want to make it clear that I fully support queer and marginalized voices writing about their lived experiences of trauma. For so long, BIPOC and LGBTQIA2S+ creators (and especially those who are both) haven’t been given the space to tell those stories, whether they are painful or joyful or everything in between, and I try to cultivate mindfulness of that reality.

That being said, the ratio of queer joy to queer pain in Can’t Take That Away is… a lot. I’m a trans, non-binary adult with years of therapy under their belt at this point, and this novel was a tough read for me—let alone a young adult in the intended audience looking for an empowering queer story. There are definitely moments of validation, joy, empowerment, and triumph, but the amount of trauma the reader is asked to endure to get them feels wildly unbalanced. The novel starts with an instance of bullying and misgendering on page two, and that pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the story. Homophobia, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, hate crimes, and gender dysphoria predominate, along with a side plot revolving around familial illness and grief. Is this “realistic” for the world we live in? Unfortunately, yes. Do I think those are important subjects to explore and do authors have the right to do so? Absolutely. But when I think of a young, questioning genderqueer teen picking this up looking for affirmation and empowerment, my heart breaks at how much they would have to go through to get to what is, in my opinion, not nearly a big enough payoff.

Another thing that really made me uncomfortable is how much onus was put on two women of colour for the #LetCareySing movement. Without the driving action of the side characters Phoebe, a talented Black pansexual actress, and Blanca, a Latinx lesbian journalist, the movement centering Carey wouldn’t have happened. Though Carey did take some action on their part as well, the bulk of the labour felt like it was done by Phoebe for most of the novel, and later Blanca. It mirrors the real life issue of white members of the queer community receiving and/or taking and/or stealing credit for labour done by BIPOC of the queer community, often without compensation of any kind. I loved Phoebe and Blanca, especially Phoebe since she got more screen time, but I really wished they hadn’t felt like accessories to “Carey’s” movement despite doing so, so much work for it.

The last topic I want to discuss may be more of personal issue, but it bothered me while I was reading so I’m going to include it. I’ll preface this by saying labels are by and large a tool for individuals; I support using whatever labels make you feel safe, affirmed, and comfortable. But I thought it was incredibly strange and a little uncomfortable that Carey, a genderqueer protagonist who introspects at length about gender identity concerns, uses he/she/they pronouns, and exists loudly outside the binary, never identifies as trans on page at any point during the novel. (Again, I realize not all non-binary/genderqueer/genderfluid individuals identify as trans and their reasons are their own). Not only that, but all of their friends are cisgender (to my knowledge). In a novel so full of gender-related discussion and violence, and especially in a novel where queer activism is a key feature, I found it jarring to see such a stark distance from the trans community—or even any other non-binary or genderfluid or genderqueer character—in its pages. In my own journey, it is through seeing the lived experiences of trans folks that I have gained a sense of community and helped affirm my path, and I would have loved to see that for Carey since I think they could have used that kind of support.

These are my personal reflections and not an absolute judgment of whether or not this book is Good or Bad (if such a thing exists at all). Overall, I feel this book will be impactful and mean so much a lot to many people. Carey’s identity is explored beautifully on its pages, there are lots of meaningful and affirming interactions between the community that builds around Carey, and it is great to see activism among queer teens being shown to have a real world, positive effect. There is value to be found and I hope for those who decide to give this one a shot, they find the affirmation and catharsis they need. I’ll be keeping my eye on what Steven Salvatore writes next for sure.

Thank you to Bloomsbury YA and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Profile Image for roma.
365 reviews88 followers
April 5, 2021
oh fuck. shouting "can everyone stop misgendering me" in the middle of class is such a trans mood i can't even,,,

i didn't give a rating because police is represented in a semi-positive way, like they would help protestors and safeguard people which is a very white take tbh. it's tone deaf and there was absolutely no need for it to be present

honestly the whole book reads like a very white queer narrative to me, the center of the entire movement being a white person, everything being about their voice and it's nyc but only 3 characters of color are present? I don't blame a trans author for wanting to explore transmisia but personally it could've been a little less so that the plot didn't depend on queermisia.

also the term "androsexual" is used and it has hugely transmisic connotations and is used by transphobes to describe attraction to "male anatomy", cis ppl please don't use such terms

content warnings: transmisia, transmisic and homomisic hate crimes, past suicidal ideation, physical assault, misgendering, gender dysphoria, underage drinking, family member with alzheimer's, death, the term queer used by cishet character

rep: genderqueer nblm mc, biracial bisexual li, gay sc, pansexual black sc, latinx lesbian sc
Profile Image for Eva B..
1,323 reviews326 followers
April 6, 2021
Between the instalove, the insufferable main character, and the shitty Catcher in the Rye takes, I just couldn't finish this one. The romance was ridiculous, they basically get together after the second time they talk? And Carey is the exact type of theatre kid that I can't stand; their diva thing really started to grate on me since I can't stand diva types. I skimmed to the end, saw a character try to say that Holden Caulfield was "an embodiment of passive white supremacy", screamed into my pillow, and dnf'd without regret.
Profile Image for Maja  - BibliophiliaDK ✨.
1,097 reviews674 followers
October 19, 2021

"Be the diva you wish to see in the world."

Carey sang their way into my heart right from the start. As someone who loves singing and who worships the Divas too, I was Carey's fan all the way through. But Carey isn't the only good thing about this book - it has a perfect balance of lightness and importance, great characters and a strong plot. It felt, in one word, perfect.

🧡 What I Loved 🧡

Emotions: This book took my emotions for a rollercoaster ride. I was all over the place. Fair warning - I cried A LOT. I cried from happiness. I cried from frustration. I cried from sadness. And I cried from how much I absolutely loved this book. Every. Dang. Moment.

Message: Carey is genderfluid. Sometimes Carey feels masculine, other times feminine. And sometimes Carey is somewhere in the middle. But one thing doesn't change. Carey loves to sing. But when Carey is cast in the school musical of Wicked in the role of Elphaba, suddenly their gender identity is a problem. I was angry and frustrated on Carey's behalf. I felt the injustice deep in my bones. And I loved how the book tackled this. I loved how Carey and their friends fought back. I loved how the entire school supported their fight for equality and acceptance. It was a beautiful message, written to perfection.

"She made me feel like I was in the wrong for being targeted."

Carey: I cannot stress how much I loved Carey. I loved their flair. I loved their insecurities. I loved their care for others. I loved their passions. I loved their strength. I loved their vulnerability. And I especially loved their growth throughout the story.

Mariah Carey: Carey's big idol is Mariah Carey. Maybe that's a no-brainer sine they're named after her. But Carey is not just a fan - Carey is a super-fan. Which means that they know A LOT of Mariah Carey factoids, which Carey uses to push themselves out of their comfort zone. Each factoid was amazing, funny and entertaining!

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Profile Image for laurel [the suspected bibliophile].
1,502 reviews451 followers
February 19, 2021
Trigger Warning: Assault, Misgendering, Homophobia, Transphobia, Car Accident, Family Death
Respect My Existence or Expect My Resistance

Carey Parker dreams of being a diva. They have the talent. They have the voice. But they're scared—of rejection, of homophobic and transphobic assholes—and they are dealing with a lot at home, with their grandmother's worsening dementia. Then they meet Cris, and their world opens. Inspired to try out for the lead role in Wicked, Carey auditions and nails the role of Elphaba. But instead of cheers, they are met with a homophobic teacher and a corps of conservative parents unwilling to accept a genderqueer teen in a "girl" role. But Carey and their friends refuse to be silenced.

This was incredible.

Despite those incredibly heavy trigger warnings, this was entirely wholesome and heavenly and I was 100% crying tears of joy through most of it. However, definitely don't step into this one lightly.

Carey was a fantastic main character, filled with courage and hope and fears and scars and everything else (in addition to the holy hell that is high school). After a really awful prom experience and locker room attack by their tormentor, Carey is struggling with the aftereffects of their coming out—and the way their former best friend Joey doesn't want to hang out anymore.

I did love the support structure, although in the beginning my eyes were narrowed at Mr. Kelly, the ever-so-supportive English teacher (and also newspaper and musical person), because usually this sets up a really not-so-fantastic interaction of predatory behavior. BUT I am happy to note (and hopefully relieve any fears) that Mr. Kelly is absolutely perfect and supportive and crosses no boundaries, despite some initial periods that felt like grooming to me (they were not at all that, my mind just...goes there, for reasons).

While I was lukewarm towards Cris, who felt like more of a poster cut-out of hormones instead of a real, live boy, I was happy for the bi rep, but I really, really wanted more page time of Joey and Monroe, and also Phoebe Wright and Blanca! More, more, more! And especially more of Joey, who weirdly felt more real to me than anyone else in the book, despite having not so much page time.
Less discrimination is not acceptable. There needs to be zero discrimination.

I liked how the book handled activism and doing what's right. It was a really, really realistic portrayal of organizing a protest and a movement (and damn these kids are phenomenal—but also realistic, because after the Parkland shooting those kids did something similar on a much larger scale), and how to do a peaceful movement (and acknowledge the privilege of having police be on your side instead of tear-gassing you for protesting while Black).

While the principal's reaction was really, really skeezy, it was...honestly pretty typical. And disappointing, and revealing in her own privilege in being able to think that just a little discrimination is acceptable, when it is not.

Because as Carey noted, one Max or one Mr. Jackson can ruin a teenager's life.

Because while it can take an entire community to help build someone up and support them, it only takes one committed asshole to bring that crashing down.

Anywho, I really enjoyed this, and I loved the chapters, which were titled by pronouns so the reader did not accidentally misgender Carey.

Wait—I just realized I forgot to mention Carey is genderqueer (as is the author). This is an ownvoices book, and it is fantastic!

Also, you learn a lot about Mariah Carey, because Mariah is Carey's idol and coping mechanism.

I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review
Profile Image for Trans-cending-literature.
144 reviews375 followers
February 13, 2021
DNF 20%
I just couldn’t keep reading this book, every page left me cringing so hard. After the MC started singing in public and literally had a “and they all clapped” moment, I had to stop. And from what I read, it felt incredibly unrealistic. As a trans person, the bullying felt very fake and one-dimensional compared to what I got in high school. This is meant to be YA, but feels more like middle school, the writing and characters were very immature. And there were way to many pop culture references, I know nothing about Mariah Carey and was left horribly confused and annoyed at how often this book referenced her. I’m always on the look out for own voices trans books, and I’m sad that I didn’t enjoy this one
Profile Image for Ocean.
123 reviews
April 22, 2021
There is so much to love about this book! I am overjoyed to see a genderqueer person as the main character. Carey has such a great support system, from their loving mother and the incredible twins Monroe and Joey - their chosen family, to their other fierce friends and their inspirational teacher, Mr Kelly. Having all of this support unfortunately doesn't stop Carey from being bullied, not only by their peers but also by a teacher who should be protecting them instead of causing harm. However, Carey's friends step up and fight back against the oppressive system that allows bigoted teachers to be so openly hateful towards marginalised students. I love Carey and their friends, and I was intrigued by the "will they, won't they" situation between Carey and Cris as they tried to figure out their relationship between misunderstandings and lack of communication. Seeing Carey step on to the stage and own who they are was a magical feeling and this story is like no other as we watched them grow into themself and find their voice while being silenced as a genderqueer person. This is such a beautiful story and I hope to read more from this author.
Profile Image for Anna.
1,514 reviews252 followers
March 18, 2021
5+ amazing. I really loved this book and want to wrap Carey in a hug. There were parts of this book that were difficult to read but all the transphobic and homophobic comments were challenged. I do think this book has the ability to change the world.

Teachers are so important and our education systems have the opportunity to be safe places for learning and growing, but they also have the power to the places where dreams go to die and people go to suffer.

I loved the on page therapy rep and I'm happy to see it becoming something more books are normalizing. Also, can we just take a moment to appreciate the Mariah Carey and Wicked love because my heart was very happy.

Anyway, just read this book.
Profile Image for Grüffeline.
1,111 reviews103 followers
March 22, 2021
Maybe I had to break to learn how to become stronger.

Wow, just wow!
I preordered this the minute I saw the cover - hoping that the inside would live up to everything the beautiful outside promised. Spoiler alter: IT DOES!!!
Carey is an amazing person and I wasn't even 40 pages in when I cried for the first time. I also laughed, cried and fell in love with this book. The writing, the characters, the story... I had Wicked playing non stop while reading this and I can't even begin to put into words how much I loved it all.
I'll be on the lookout for more book from this author!
Profile Image for cossette.
302 reviews257 followers
June 14, 2021
Trigger warnings: Alzheimer’s, Assault (Verbal, Physical, Sexual), Blackmail, Bullying, Cancer, Death (Death of a parent, death of a grandparent), Emetphobia, Forced Outing, Gender Dysphoria, Grief, Hate Crime, Homophobia, Medical Complications, Queerphobia, Sexual Assault/Harrassment, Shooting (Threat), Suicide Attempt, Suicide Ideation, Transphobia

Profile Image for Jason June.
Author 15 books505 followers
April 7, 2021
There really aren't the right words to describe how much reading about Carey and their journey meant to me. As a genderqueer person, there were so many times Carey describes their gender and I was like, "YES!" Carey gets me, and I feel seen, and this book is for sure going to boost the hearts of so many readers.
Profile Image for Gordon Ambos.
Author 3 books68 followers
December 5, 2022
CW: Mobbing, Homophobie, Transphobie, Hatecrime

Steven Salvatore mausert sich langsam wirklich zu einem neuen Lieblingsautor. Und das nach nur 2 Büchern! Hier habe ich auch wieder die Freundesgruppe geliebt. Ich mochte auch die eingewobenen Songtexte und das unnütze Wissen über Mariah Carey. :D
Profile Image for lara.
374 reviews23 followers
December 11, 2021
"No longer caged, I'm sprouting wings and defying gravity. The walls of the auditorium fall away, and the world opens up to me. I'm free."

No suelo escribir una opinión muy larga de los libros que leo, pero este libro lo merece. Es mi primer libro donde el personaje principal es genderqueer y soy tan feliz de haberle dado una oportunidad.

Este libro me impactó mucho por lo duro y cruel que pueden (o podemos) ser las personas. Hay dos personajes horribles en esta historia que lastiman mucho al personaje principal (Carey), solo porque es genderqueer, solo porque le gustan los chicos, solo porque quiere participar en un musical donde interpreta a un personaje femenino, solo por ser quien realmente es y quiere ser. Sin embargo, a pesar de eso, Carey sale adelante y hace que todos escuchen su preciosa voz, no solo cantando, sino también pidiendo justicia por todas las personas que han sufrido discriminación solo por ser quiénes son.

Ayer escuché la canción 'Can't Take That Away' de Mariah Carey y de verdad no puede ser más perfecta para la historia de Carey. Lloré mientras la escuchaba.

#SingForEquality #LetCareySing
Profile Image for Jordan.
66 reviews105 followers
December 16, 2020
I adore this book! It's got Broadway references, well rounded characters all over, and it's so so so queer it's lovely! Carey is fantastic and I love how the chapter titles start with how Carey identities at the time. Some of the queer stuff is a bit heavy handed at first, but lessens up once the setting is established and you settle into a wonderful story.

Carey's story isn't your typical YA meet cute romance. Yes, it has that. And it's adorable, but the romance is kind of left on the back burner. This ultimately is a story about standing up for yourself, for others, and never letting anyone take your voice away.

By the time you finish this book you'll want to put the Wicked soundtrack on full blast and start chanting "Let Carey Sing!" It makes you want to change the world.
Profile Image for Nicolas DiDomizio.
Author 4 books89 followers
June 24, 2020
I was lucky enough to read early drafts of this manuscript, and let me just say... this book is EVERYTHING. Insanely lovable protagonist Carey Parker's journey is full of heart, humor, queerness, activism, feels, Mariah Carey worship (#Lambily4Life), and so much more. This is an instant YA classic about the power of finding and owning your authentic voice!
Profile Image for Yuli Atta.
615 reviews91 followers
March 11, 2021
DNF @ 50%
I usually don't rate DNFs but I do for the ones I get to 50% or over bc of the amount of suffering I've been through.

This book made me angry for all the wrong reasons.

The message it's trying to send about fighting injustice and the way minorities are treated is amazing and should be appreciated.

However, this book didn't click with me on a personal level at all. This books has all the tropes I despise in drama and I CANNOT TAKE IT.

I have lost braincells I will never recover and I've decided to stop for my own sanity.

I want to stress that this is NOT a bad book, just a bad choice for me.

The first 100 pages WERE AMAZING. I loved it so much, I connected to Carey even if they were getting close to Cris very quickly and my demiromantic asexual ass could never...

I was enjoying the book and even though I could low-key see the drama coming I was loving Carey and Cris's interactions and cuteness. Cris is also half-Greek and half-Filipino which I loved! He is also shorter than Carey but it read so many times like the author forgot that he was the shorter one but that doesn't matter.

What I didn't like is how STUPID the drama is. You see, I love drama, I watch BL dramas after all and they can be dumb and cringy and I also watch K-dramas and they tend to be melodramatic, so you could say I'm well-versed in drama.

So wtf is the first half of the book?
The stupid drama between Carey and Joey because Carey is too self-absorbed with themselves to pay attention to others even when they tell them what's wrong. It's always about Carey, Carey, Carey.

Like if they weren't so self-absorbed they would've noticed so many things but we need that for plot after all.

Their best friend tried to warn them that they got in a relationship too quickly but Carey took that as her saying that Cris couldn't be attracted to them bc they are gender-queer... Like if she wanted to say that, she would've.

Then they found out something else about Cris and there goes the drama which happened only because Carey refused to listen to what Cris had to say. They felt so betrayed like Cris didn't already hint at it earlier in the book but ofc Carey is too self-absorbed to notice that. But also it was vague enough so it wasn't entirely their fault. It just annoyed me.

The random gay boy tells Carey that Cris is worth it and Carey chases after him bc we need the affirmation of a stranger whether to pursue somebody or not and even then we can't forgive bc we are stupidly stubborn because we need to sing about our confessions and aggressively kiss on stage in order to trigger act 2 of the plot which is the homophobic reaction of a homophobic teacher. And you see how the actual plot is gonna take over.

But at this point I couldn't care less because my braincells were leaking out of my ears and dripping on the floor from all of the stupid drama.

As I said, this is my own personal taste and unfortunately this book wasn't it. I'm saddened because I love the cover, I love the premise, I want to read more books about different gender identities, I loved the first 100 pages and they are the only reason I didn't give 1 star.
Profile Image for Lewis.
402 reviews47 followers
April 15, 2021
Can't Take That Away by Steven Salvatore follows Carey Parker, a genderqueer teen who is more than used to a daily dose of queerphobia but gets far more than they bargained for when they're cast in the role of Elphaba in their school's production of Wicked. The story follows Carey as they fight backlash against their casting and fight back against queerphobia in the school as a whole.
This story was absolutely beautiful. In every way that I can describe, it was perfect.
Carey's layered identity was so wonderful to read about. Each chapter was subtitled with identifying pronouns (they/them, he/him or she/her) depending which Carey identified in that respective chapter. It is these kind of touches that prove why we need non-binary* authors writing their stories.
The side characters were all extremely memorable with the Fierce Five being so much fun and so loveable and Blanca's addition to the group being warmly received. Phoebe was especially enjoyable to read about due to her fierce and passionate nature. Cris as a love interest was extremely likeable and I honestly wish we saw more of him as he is just a beacon of joy and love in this story.
Seeing a character talk openly about their suicide ideations, depression and therapy was amazingly refreshing and uplifting to read about in a strange way. The fact that so many queer people experience such thoughts and issues goes to show how messed up the world is and these discussions need to happen openly. Mental health will remain stigmatised if we do not. Carey's story of survival is extremely powerful.
The protest and queer advocacy in this book was immense and so extremely poignant. I truly can't put into words how much #LetCareySing means to me and how much of an impact that it's had on me. To have the strength to be one's self authentically in spite of the world telling you not too is overwhelmingly difficult but Salvatore and Carey make it that bit easier to take the first step to embracing who you truly are and fighting for what you believe.

Content warnings - queerphobia, discussions and recollections of suicidal ideations, therapy, discussions of depression, black-mailing
Profile Image for TJ.
712 reviews54 followers
May 1, 2021
DNF @ 25%

Okay, I did the audiobook version of this, and I just to say— it’s one of the worst audiobooks I’ve ever listened to. The narrator is so monotone and expressionless, to the point that I’m under the impression they were recording locked in their home’s personal closet trying to remain quiet so as not to disturb other housemates. The mic is fuzzy and the editing has random long pauses. And lastly, I’m pretty sure I heard an engine revving in the background for like 30 seconds straight. I get that audiobooks are probably harder to create during quarantine times, but y’all— don’t waste your money on this production. I went out of my way to listen to another audio from the narrator (Felix Ever After), and it sounded way more professional and expressive, so that’s what led to my theory above. But that doesn’t excuse charging for a subpar production. Okay, audiobook rant over!

As for the book itself and the writing, it’s basically like most other YA contemporary debuts. If you like those, you’ll probably enjoy this for what it is. But I’ve read so many of them at this point that unless the writing is stellar or there’s something grabbing in the plot or character, I just find myself mostly apathetic. I love the representation in this book, and I’m glad it exists. I hope lots of people see themselves in it. But the writing left a lot to be desired for me. The romance in particular was really forgettable and basic. But again, if you’re just looking for some queer/NB rep and a fast contemporary to breeze through, you might find something to enjoy here. Sadly, like many queer YA books lately, the cover art is the best part about this one... 2.5/5, rounding up to be generous.
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