I want to start off this review by stating that Where We Go From Here is an important book and that I am so glad that it has been translated for an English audience. Where We Go From Here is a YA Contemporary novel featuring a Brazilian and LGBTQIAP+ cast. It follows three characters; Ian, Victor and Henrique who are at different stages of their lives dealing with HIV. Ian has been newly diagnosed, Victor has just found out he’s negative and Henrique has been living with HIV for three years.
Regardless of my final impression of how I connected with this book and what I thought of it as a creative endeavour, I can’t fail to stress how much this book needs to exist – and others like it. I personally have no experience with HIV and can’t critique it on that level, so I can’t tell you if this is a good representation for those who experience and live with it. What I can say is that it gave me insight into a world commonly experienced by members of the LBGTQIAP+ community through the mechanism of YA fiction, which I’ve never seen before.
It’s ironic that I’m talking about this first because I only learned about it at the end of the book when I was reading the Acknowledgements; going into this book I knew it was by a Latinx author. What I didn’t know was that it was a translation. I don’t often enjoy reading first-person narrative(s), it’s just something I’ve never gelled with personally – I was (wrongly) surprised by not only how well-done and cohesive the translated writing was but how readable I found it to be. The only criticism I would have on this end is that despite being told from three different perspectives, I didn’t feel that the narratives were particularly distinguishable from one another. There was promise at the beginning, within the first ten pages Rocha clearly showed differences between the first two characters introduced through one specific mechanism; how they perceive the nurse. Unfortunately, I didn’t see this continue.
Where We Go From Here reads like a personal journal and I suppose in some aspects it is, it’s the inside of the character’s heads and as a result, it feels self-indulgent at times. It feels heavy-handed but that goes a long way to saying that it’s about young people – it feels like teenager’s perspectives. Let’s not be mistaken, Rocha has little real estate to work with such a complex and difficult topic and its aims have been adjusted accordingly. It’s about three boys and their relationship with each other and HIV. It doesn’t pretend to be any more.
The friendship between Ian and Gabriel felt authentic and it was a much needed base, which I was grateful for. Some of the storytelling does feel lazy, I feel like much of the substance is thrust upon conversations had with secondary characters; the best friends. It’s something that happens several times with each of the characters and this makes it feel like there’s less personal development happening outside of that dialogue.
I understand that the whole point of the first half of the novel is for Victor to be prejudiced, he’s dealing with his relationship to HIV and working through that prejudice is part of it. However, it felt odd for Victor to be so self-aware of the privilege he has of his family accepting his sexuality when for the majority of the book he’s been prejudiced against Henrique. Having said that though, his characterisation otherwise is perfectly apt. He’s immature and while it has the potential to be irritating, it really just makes sense and fits the narrative.
There’s constant, specific, height descriptions. This isn’t a critique, just an observation. Another one is the fact that this book excellently captures the atmosphere of a night out. Perhaps its withdrawal due to being in lockdown but reading through the chapters where the characters were out at a gay club felt really familiar and just true.
In summary, Where We Go From Here puts a smile on your face and paints struggles as I believe they are, folded between the pages of normality. It’s short but accomplishes what it sets out to do. Its lightheartedness at times is what allows it to do this so well in such a short amount of time. These feel like real people and real interactions. Even though it follows three people, this is really Ian’s story, in my opinion. His chapters, his family, his life is the strongest part of the book. At the end, it’s all tied together with a bow – because when you have the option, who wouldn’t give them a happy ending?
I was provided a copy of this book for review by the publisher.