I was raised in the Mormon church, in what we referred to as the Samoan ward since many of the members were of that nationality. I never had a very good relationship with the church. Unlike Sebastian and the folks in Provo, UT, the seaside town in SoCal that I grew up in was not overrun with Mormons and they remain in the minority of worshippers even today. It's also very diverse, so you run across a lot of different nationalities and beliefs on any given day. So I didn't have Mormon friends at school, and my brother and I pretty much rebelled (as much as we were allowed to) against not spending time outside the house on Sunday (other than church of course) and having to participate in Monday home evening. Youth group activities on Wednesday nights were at least fun, and we didn't have to do too many weekend or service activities. We did summer camp a few times, and Scouts, but it was camping and selling cookies - it's hard to make that suck. And while I wouldn't call myself a feminist, per se, I never liked the assumption that I would grow up to have babies and bake cookies for Relief Society and I hated wearing dresses with a passion - though I didn't envy my brother his button-down shirts and slacks either.
Basically, I liked the people and was comfortable around them - and still am - in a way I'm not comfortable with most people. Even though it's been years since I've attended services regularly or cracked open a Book of Mormon and I'm against the things the church promotes in regards to gender equality and LGBTQ+ rights, I still identify as Mormon. It's a complicated relationship I have with my church (can I even still call it "mine"?) and there were no easy answers for me, a girl with no interest in marriage or kids, other than to leave the church.
And yet, I miss it. I miss the comfort it used to bring me and the peace I used to feel inside those doors. I miss the innocent trust I used to place on the church's teachings of "families are forever" and "love thy neighbor" and "do good works" because in the years since I left the church I've learned many things that I disagree with them about, and even if they believe in the depths of their hearts that they're doing God's works, that's no God I want any part of when He excludes people simply for loving the "wrong" person.
Like Tanner and Sebastian, I too keep hoping for the day when the prophet has a revelation and declares being LGBTQ+ to be a-okay and right with God, and you know what? Women are allowed to hold the gospel too. Until then, I stay away and a part of me will never be whole again.
What I loved about this book though is that it doesn't demonize Mormons or Sebastian or his family. Not all Mormons are anti-gay or turn their family away for being gay. The authors definitely did their research and got the input of people who know the church, and it shows, and it all speaks very true to what I saw and experienced growing up. But they don't beat the reader over the head with religion. As Tanner learns, the reader learns.
Tanner wasn't raised with religion, though his mom is ex-Mormon and his dad is a non-practicing Jew. He grew up in San Francisco, where being bisexual was no big deal, and he had the support and love of his parents from day one. It takes him a long time to open his eyes and realize that not all parents are like his parents, but that doesn't mean they love their kids any less. As he gets to know Sebastian and understand more about what makes up his psyche and why, he's able to see a larger picture and world than he was raised in, and it's not always pretty.
There is a hint of insta-love between Tanner and Sebastian, but given they're young men, and Tanner is quite impulsive, it rang true to me that things would move as fast as they do, even with Sebastian's reservations and need to keep things secret. They face plenty of challenges, enough to test their feelings for each other and make me believe those feelings were real and true.
I have two very minor nitpicks and I'm not sure how much they'll even bother me if/when I reread this. The first is the narrator. Don't get me wrong, he did a fantastic job with the story and the characters. But he's not eighteen. Honestly though, that bothered me less and less as I listened and got into the story. Some of the female characters were a little strained in the higher octaves though.
The other thing was the sudden switch in the last fifth of the book. I didn't realize that everything I'd listened to up to that point was the actual book that Tanner wrote for his seminar class, so it went from first-person POV to third-person POV for both Sebastian and Tanner after the "book" ended and we caught up with the narrative. It was jarring, tonally, but again that could just be because I wasn't expecting it and it's possible that it'll flow better on reread.