Review: “Be Dazzled” by Ryan La Sala

Release Date: January 5, 2021
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Description

“Raffy has a passion for bedazzling. Not just bedazzling, but sewing, stitching, draping, pattern making–for creation. He’s always chosen his art over everything–and everyone–else and is determined to make his mark at this year’s biggest cosplay competition. If he can wow there, it could lead to sponsorship, then art school, and finally earning real respect for his work. There’s only one small problem… Raffy’s ex-boyfriend, Luca, is his main competition.

Raffy tried to make it work with Luca. They almost made the perfect team last year after serendipitously meeting in the rhinestone aisle at the local craft store–or at least Raffy thought they did. But Luca’s insecurities and Raffy’s insistence on crafting perfection caused their relationship to crash and burn. Now, Raffy is after the perfect comeback, one that Luca can’t ruin.

But when Raffy is forced to partner with Luca on his most ambitious build yet, he’ll have to juggle unresolved feelings for the boy who broke his heart, and his own intense self-doubt, to get everything he’s ever wanted: choosing his art, his way.”

My Review

I adored Ryan La Sala’s debut novel, Reverie, so I was intensely excited to read his second book. While Be Dazzled isn’t speculative fiction – it’s a young adult contemporary with a heaping helping of romance – it is just as delightful as his first. La Sala has a great authorial voice and really knows how to write like teenagers. My favorite line: “I gasp. Not a regular gasp. A gay gasp. A theatre gay gasp.” I know actual real teenagers who sound just like that, italics and English spelling of theater included. Perfection.

The book alternates chapters in the present as Raffy and his best friend May, a webcomic artist, are preparing to compete in a cosplay competition at a Boston con and the past as Raffy falls in love with and then loses Luca, a closeted bisexual boy. In the past, the two boys meet first on Raffy’s crafting video channel then in real life and end up in a fraught and hormonal romance. In the present, Raffy and May are competing against, among others, Luca and his new kinda sorta beard Inaya. Raffy’s also competing against his low self-esteem and undiagnosed anxiety disorder. We repeatedly see him spiral out, believing his accusations because he’s our trusty narrator, only to learn later that what Raffy believed was true wasn’t anywhere close to what actually happened.

One thing I really appreciated was the conversation about parental neglect and abuse. Too often parents in YA are either supportive, abusive, or non-existent. With Raffy’s mother Evie, we get a mother both similar yet different from the norm. She’s hardly around at all, and her relationship with her son is more like roommates rather than parent and child (Raffy generally refers to her as “Evie” rather than “mom”). She’s distant and emotionally unavailable and cares more about how her son reflects on her than how he’s moving through life. However, it’s important that she’s not cartoonishly evil or physically abusive or outwardly cruel. I honestly don’t think she even realizes the harm she’s causing her son. That doesn’t make it any less stressful for Raffy, but I think it’s helpful for teens to see there is more to damaging parental relationships than the obvious markers. They need to see that toxic parenting is not a reflection on them, nor should they feel obligated to either push that parent out of their lives or cling to them in the hopes that they’ll change. Not everyone is close with their parents, and that’s not a bad thing.

If Ryan La Sala can win over someone like me who detests crafting, he can win over anyone. A cute geeky story about two messy boys trying to work things out and constantly screwing up.

Buy it at Bookshop.org (affiliate link)

Thank you to the publisher for sending a review copy.

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