“Everyone on campus knows Remy Cameron. He’s the out-and-gay, super-likable guy that people admire for his confidence. The only person who may not know Remy that well is Remy himself. So when he is assigned to write an essay describing himself, he goes on a journey to reconcile the labels that people have attached to him, and get to know the real Remy Cameron.”
Remy Cameron knows exactly who he is. He’s Black, gay, adopted, a junior in high school, and the leader of his school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. His white parents and younger sisters are supportive in all the best ways, he has a large social circle of friends, and is well-liked (yet still teased-slash-taunted for his sexuality) by most of the school. But is that really who he is? Is he just a collection of labels and identities or is he something more? When a tough AP English Literature teacher Ms. Amos assigns an essay worth a big chunk of his final grade, Remy is forced to confront some major questions about his identities and what they mean. Things get more complicated when the biological sister he never knew he had reaches out to him on social media.
I work in a high school library and I already have a list of students I want to give this book to. How to Be Remy Cameron is an important work that really speaks to teenagers in their language. I got a lot out of it as an adult, but this truly is for teenagers, especially those not used to questioning the plans laid out for them. With the dreaded essay, Remy works his way through that very realization. He gets to know one boy, the very cute Ian Park, who fears the consequences of naming his labels aloud, and has a painful interaction with another students who only sees Remy’s discrete parts, not the whole. He learns that one friend thinks he isn’t doing a very good job at maintain his BFF label, and encounters a student who hates the labels others have put on her but doesn’t know what to do about it.
I constantly have to remind my kids that their labels should not define who they are. Labels are merely descriptors for who you are at this moment; they don’t define what you do, who you know, and what you’re going to become. You labels should change as you age and experience new things. You are not your labels. They are part of who you are, but they are not the end all and be all. You are each of your labels and all of your labels and more than just your labels.
Since this is Julian Winters, you know that the book is very well written and the characters vivid and realistic. The story feels grounded in truth, not mired in melodrama. There’s a little bit of romance and a whole lotta charm. I can tell you this much, How to Be Remy Cameron is going to be on my rec list for a long, long time.
Watching Lucy from the corner of my vision, I bite my thumbnail. “What do you wanna be when you grow up?”
I hate that phrase: “When you grow up.” I’m seventeen, a quarter-inch short of six-foot-one and have a long-standing love affair with cold brewed coffee. I’m probably not growing anymore, not physically. I’m cool with that.
But Ms. Amos’s essay has me on edge.
“Yeah. Grow up,” I repeat.
Lucy’s lips twist into a smile. “You mean once you get past this immature dickhead phase.”
“Is it really a phase, Lucia?” I tease.
Despite the dark curtain of inky-black hair falling below her brow, I can still see Lucy roll her eyes.
“I don’t know. You first.”
“An actor.” I reply with the conviction of a true thespian—which means none at all.
“You definitely have the dramatic part down.”
“Hey!” I nudge her shoulder until Lucy almost tips over laughing.
“We both know your dream is to go to Emory and become some world-famous writer.”
I nod, but my stomach twists into eighteen knots. I’ll never make it to Emory without this essay. I did a little research after the AP Lit class: part of the admissions requirement is an essay, a personal statement. They want to know who you are.
So freaking perfect.
“Don’t you ever think about these things?” I ask.
Lucy’s shoulders pull tightly when she’s shrugs. It’s the first sign.
“Sometimes.” A lie. Lucy’s a thinker and a planner. “I wonder if my dad imagined being a father at twenty-two. Did he want it? Or was it something he involuntarily settled into?”
I nod, but she doesn’t see. Chin tucked, she’s glaring at her shoes. “A lot of adults do that—settle for what they become.” There are sad wrinkles beside her mouth. “They lose that thing you need to fight.”
“What’s ‘that thing’ they lose?”
Lucy shrugs again. She tips her head skyward. Floating islands of overcast clouds hide the sun. “Who knows, Rembrandt.”
We sit in silence. The late school bus chugs in, its motor rattling. Detention-dwellers hop on like convicts minus the orange jumpsuits.
Review copy acquired at ALA.