A trans pianist makes a New Year’s resolution on a frozen Wisconsin night to win regionals and win back his ex, but a new boy complicates things in Edward Underhill’s heartfelt debut YA rom-dram, Always the Almost.
Sixteen-year-old trans boy Miles Jacobson has two New Year’s resolutions: 1) win back his ex-boyfriend (and star of the football team) Shane McIntyre, and 2) finally beat his slimy arch-nemesis at the Midwest’s biggest classical piano competition. But that’s not going to be so easy. For one thing, Shane broke up with Miles two weeks after Miles came out as trans, and now Shane’s stubbornly ignoring him, even when they literally bump into each other. Plus, Miles’ new, slightly terrifying piano teacher keeps telling him that he’s playing like he “doesn’t know who he is”—whatever that means.
Then Miles meets the new boy in town, Eric Mendez, a proudly queer cartoonist from Seattle who asks his pronouns, cares about art as much as he does—and makes his stomach flutter. Not what he needs to be focusing on right now. But after Eric and Miles pretend to date so they can score an invite to a couples-only Valentine’s party, the ruse turns real with a kiss, which is also definitely not in the plan. If only Miles could figure out why Eric likes him so much. After all, it’s not like he’s cool or confident or comfortable in his own skin. He’s not even good enough at piano to get his fellow competitors to respect him, especially now, as Miles. Nothing’s ever been as easy for him as for other people—other boys. He’s only ever been almost enough.
So why, when he’s with Eric, does it feel like the only person he’s ever really not been enough for…is himself?
Thank you so much to NetGalley and Wednesday Books for the advance copy of this joyful debut novel from Edward Underhill. I feel like I have learned so much about the trans experience by taking in the prose in these pages. Edward has put his whole heart into Miles– and you can feel the raw, still-beating heart pulsing between the two. In addition to being a window into the soul of this transmasc teen– the story was insightful, funny, and romantic. I fell in love with the characters immediately and truly cared about each of their journeys.
We meet Miles as he is gearing up for the Midwest’s biggest piano competition. However, that’s not the only glaring problem that he has. He is also finding himself– and that endeavor all started when he transitioned. Thankfully, he has a wonderful support system on his side, but even that isn’t enough to staunch the ache of losing his boyfriend Shane. That is… not until Eric falls into his life. The artist sees the beauty of the pianist, and as their love story begins, so too does Miles’ voyage into introspection. With the help of his new piano teacher, he finds out what it means to be himself and what he wants from his ‘new’ life. He says goodbye to Almost and just Is.
I have made so many changes in the past couple of years. I realized I was pansexual during the pandemic, and I’m now exploring what it means to be nonbinary. So I very much related to Miles and his search for himself. It’s comforting to see characters that aren’t comfortable in their skins and make strides to change it. Many of us stick to what’s comfortable because it’s easier, but then we wind up being terribly unhappy. And that’s the thing I loved most about this novel. It truly was a tale of trans joy. The road there for Miles was bumpy and full of starts and stops– but it ended on such a happy note that I found myself smiling at the very last page. Growing up is hard. Books like this will make it so much less so for people of all ages who really need the representation.