When I was doing my research for LGBTQ YA Month, A + E 4ever was one of the books mentioned on a list on Goodreads. It sounded intriguing, so I put it on my own shelf to look at again in future. I came to it again, and took another look. It sounded absolutely amazing plot wise, so I decided just to get it. You will never understand just how glad I am that I did.
Ash, unfortunately, is a guy that looks like a beautiful girl, and is bullied and outcast for it. Eu is a fierce, take-no-prisoners girl who's attitude puts people off. With their shared passion for music and art, they find a friend in each other. A + E 4ever is the story of their relationship, as they discover who they are, and just how much the other means to them.
I was a bit wary about reading this book, despite the awesome premise. Before reading, I didn't consider myself a graphic novel fan. Graphic novels just didn't - and still don't, really - appeal to me. Part of it is because, most of the time, when thinking of graphic novels, I think superheroes, which I'm not keen on outside of movies, and Manga, which I really don't like. And another part is I've always believed that the other graphic novels (that aren't Manga or about superheroes) were for those smarter than me. The people I know who enjoy graphic novels are really intelligent, and appreciate graphic novels for more than just their story. I've heard these people talk about graphic novels, and what they say kind of goes right over my head. So I assumed I'm not smart enough to appreciate graphic novels properly, hence them not appealing to me. But then I read A + E 4ever.
I kid you not. There was something about A + E 4ever that was just so powerful. I don't know whether it's the fact that there were pictures - awesome pictures - and so I could really see the story play out, or if it was just the story itself, but I was so moved, so affected by this story. Ash and Eu took hold of my heart and wouldn't let go. It was sweet, it was tender, it was wonderful. Again, it was beautiful. It absolutely blew me away.
Saying that, it's not the happiest of stories. There are moments in this novel that are horrific and terribly sad. Ash isn't just bullied, he's sexually abused. We see this from the very beginning. For having the face he does, he is treated so unbelievably badly. Eu is the first person to treat him with kindness. It's heartbreaking. And Eu... she feels so strongly for Ash, and Ash just doesn't see it. Some of the things he puts her through, without thinking, are just so unfair. I so wanted to hug her so many times. Then there's the terrible living conditions Ash lives in, his eating disorder, and his fear of touch. There are so many really low moments, so many serious subjects discussed, and your heart just goes out to both of them.
But it is the story of their relationship, and their's is the best kind of friendship. Eu gives the much needed kindness and acceptance to Ash, changing his life and showing him fun. It's because of her that he is able to come out of his shell and experience life a little more, figure out exactly who he is. And Ash brings out Eu's softer side, and gives her someone to be herself with - again, acceptance. With their shared love of music and art bringing them together, they finally have someone to talk to about the things they are so passionate about, someone who actually gets it, who knows what they mean. In finding each other, they give each other freedom. It's not a perfect friendship, they have their ups and downs, and their fair share of arguments. But at the very core, their friendship is strong, and the very best kind.
Ash is attracted to guys and girls, but guys more. Eu is attracted to girls and guys, but guys more. Because of her feelings for Ash, Eu focuses mostly on him, so it's Ash's sexuality who gets explored in this book. He and Eu will go out clubbing every Friday night, and Ash will generally pull a guy each night. When this happens, we're mostly with Eu, seeing what she's thinking and feeling, rather than seeing what's going through Ash's head. But he enjoys himself, and never lets Eu leave on her own. There's one incident where things don't follow the usual plan, and... wow. Oh, how Ash disappointed me there.
Both straight and gay sex happens in this book, but it's not overly graphic. It's a graphic novel, so there are pictures, but it's not pornographic. Merey takes the "less is more" angle when it comes to detail in these pictures; you know exactly what's happening in each one, but there's nothing anyone is going to be offended by. Well, I don't think so. There's no complete full-frontal nakedness. Various sexual acts are shown, and they're discussed between the two characters, but in a completely normal teenage way, rather than "lets show the characters having sex with people/have them discuss sex for gratuitous reasons". It all fits in with the story, moves it along. And with the pictures, some of them are actually really beautiful.
On to the art in general. A + E 4ever is in black and white. Some pictures are really detailed - there are some beautiful pictures of their faces - and there are some that are sketchier, almost rushed-looking, but without looking crap. They all fit the tone of the story at the time, and show what's happening in the best possible way. Before reading, I checked out Merey's blog. Seriously talented! A + E 4ever has the same style, you can tell it's Merey's art, but there is a difference, for the different forms of art. And I'm a big fan of both styles!
A + E 4ever really surprised me. Or my reaction to it did. I didn't expect to love it as much as I did. And it's so, so amazing! This is one of those books I'll read again and again. One I'll recommend to everyone. One I want to hold close and just hug because I don't know how to better express my love for it. It has the most awesome ending, so real, and so sweet! Oh my gosh, this book is just incredible, and I know this review isn't even close to doing it justice. I really hope Merey brings us more graphic novels. The world needs stories like this.
Published: 25th September 2011
Publisher: Lethe Press
Buy on Amazon US
Ilike Merey's Blog