Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Spin Me Right Round by David Valdes


I'm frequently at odds with popular opinion on this site, for better or for worse (usually for worse). It's not that I'm intentionally contrary, mostly; it's more that I happen to be a big fan of camp and irony, and "mainstream" things aren't really written for people like me, AKA awkward dorks who evolved from precocious to pretentious the way Charmander inevitably becomes a Charizard, but who also aren't quite pretentious enough to throw out their Joel Schumacher movies or tattered V.C. Andrews paperbacks. It's why I like books like, say, I MARRIED THE LIZARD MAN but don't like books like FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. One is a glorious homage to the pulpy 1950s horror films with a dash of Harvest Moon dating sim and the other masturbates harder to the upwardly mobile aspirations of the bourgeoisie than it does the BDSM sex it supposedly (and problematically, I might add) espouses.

Anyway, that's why when I find books like SPIN ME RIGHT ROUND that have low ratings on Goodreads, part of me is like, "You fools! Are we but mere swines turning up our snouts at the  pearls that lie before us?" And part of me is like, "Actually, maybe I'm the weird one here, and also, let those that live in pig houses cast not the first pearl." Or something like that. Because SPIN ME RIGHT ROUND is not a perfect read. The time travel is purely whimsical and doesn't really have a lot of scientific bases. And while it touches upon racism and bigotry in the '80s more than books like ELEANOR AND PARK did (i.e. not at all, except when convenient), there's still a sort of whitewashed gloss to the book that never really goes there. Which I think, on the one hand, is actually fine. We read books for escapism and this is YA, so we probably shouldn't traumatize the kiddos with brutal depictions of what bigotry in action could look like in history. And this light hand, for SPIN ME RIGHT ROUND, actually works, because the author manages to get his point across and he does so in a way that feels temporally acceptable, if not necessarily accurate.

The plot revolves around a flamboyantly gay boy named Luis who is going to a Christian school. It's pretty progressive for a Christian school but it still doesn't allow gay kids to go to the dance as couples and Luis is campaigning hard against that, because he wants to attend with his boyfriend, Cheng. He also has a nonbinary best friend named Nix, who tries to reign him in because they have a rather tragic understanding of the limits of what the school will and will not allow. Especially since, back in the 1980s a young gay Black man named Chaz died at the school and basically became a cautionary tale that the teachers decided to use as a fallback for their gussied up "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Anyway, after a failed attempt at subterfuge involving the prom invites (whoops, did I forgot to add pronouns to the invites, thus creating a legal loophole? SILLY ME), he ends up whacked on the head in the drama department (curse you, plywood!), which sends him back to the 1980s. 1985, specifically. Which I might be more skeptical about if 80% of my Timeswept historical romances didn't end the same way. I literally shared one today on Instagram where a female stuntwoman ends up int he middle of an 1800s bank robbery because of some faulty pyrotechnics. A few weeks ago, it was one where this woman bonked her head while falling out of a tree. Head bonkings are the leading cause of time travel, IN CASE YOU DIDN'T KNOW.

Anyway, Luis ends up meeting his favorite teacher (who is in her twenties in this timeline, omg so SWEET), and she believes him about the whole time travel thing because Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is her favorite book, so hooray. She decides that the best thing to do is to grandfather him into the school by pretending he's her tragically orphaned nephew, and it works because nobody has Google to look that shit up (looking that shit up on Google fixes 99% of falsified nephew shenanigans). Since his personality is big and brash, he decides to just be his best gay self while hanging out with the fringe crowd at this school, which includes HIS MOM(!), an artsy girl named Leeza, an adorable dork named Ernie, and the soon-to-be-doomed Chaz(!).

I don't want to say too much about this book because spoilers are foilers, people. But it's actually adorable in the way that some of those low budget YA movies of the '90s were adorable, where even if the story is far-fetched, it's so earnest and enjoyable that you end up coming back to it over and over. This book manages to capture all of the nostalgia of what made the '80s live on in so many young people's imaginations: the thrill of being in the moment, without phones; the over the top catchy beats of '80s songs (I appreciate The Cars shoutout); Tiger Beat; '80s clothes involving ruffles; CHESS KING; bomber jackets; big hair, etc. But it also doesn't ignore what made the '80s kind of awful, and it hammers home, in a really subtle and kind of quietly tragic way, how so many kids of the '80s and '90s had to wait a very long time to grow up and come out, in order to get to be their true, authentic selves.

The ending is beautiful and perfect and the scenes with Luis discovering his mom as a teen and seeing so much of himself in her actually made me tear up. I think it's easy for kids-- especially teens-- to forget their parents are people with actual hopes and dreams, and seeing his mom before she grew up, and seeing so much of himself in her, was such a powerful, beautiful moment. Luis is everything I love in a narrator-- he's willful and difficult, but he's also very funny, and even though he's shallow and a little selfish, he's not an inherently bad person and part of the story is watching him grow, as well. This is another cool thing about the book because a lot of the times, when an author writes a queer book, I think that there's an expectation that the queer character has to be flawless, acting as a sort of ambassador for whatever color block on the Pride flag they're representing, so seeing a queer character who gets to be imperfect and who gets to do so in a really fun way is fun and exciting and actually ended up making him feel really well rounded and interesting. I liked that he could be a bitch. I can be a bitch, too, so that made me really relate to Luis. I also liked the fact that he was Cuban, and how the author touches upon some of the inherent misogyny that can appear in some Latinx households, and how working past that (in the case of Luis's mother) can take a lot of effort and introspection.

Is this book for everyone? No. But if you like camp and catty narrators and John Hughes movies, I think you're going to love this book. I know I did. It's also a clever subversion of the bury-your-gays trope. Netflix seriously needs to make this into a movie for the promposal and the "Drive" scenes alone.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars

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