Title: If I Tell You
Author: Alicia Tuckerman
Publisher: Pantera Press (2018)
Genre: YA Contemporary
If I Tell You follows the story of small-town teenager Alex Summers as she navigates her final year of high school and a budding relationship with her first love, Phoenix Stone. When Phoenix moves to the farming community of Two Creeks, the town is polarised by her arrival. Phoenix is openly gay, and her family is extremely supportive of her sexuality. It is not until Alex first encounters Phoenix that she realises that she is a lesbian, and the internal battle between coming out and keeping her sexuality a secret ensues.
What I really loved about this story was how easily I could picture the characters and what was happening within the story. The dialogue and interactions between Alex and her friends were realistic, and I found the relationship between each of her parents heartwarming yet painful to witness. Alicia Tuckerman has done an outstanding job in representing the many issues that coming out can involve, depending on who the person is coming out to.
The majority of the town, including Alex’s mother, is extremely homophobic, to the point of even painting hurtful slurs on Phoenix’s fence. There are comments from a range of characters throughout the book that paint a picture of an intolerant, scary town to live in. The way in which Tuckerman has constructed the town and their views directly relates to how Alex feels about coming out, and we feel her apprehension and fear in doing so. When she finally does come out her father is supportive but a little unsure of how to react, and her mother reacts violently. There’s a representation of gender stereotypes that Tuckerman does a great job of describing and subverting, without falling into the trap of lesbian tropes in literature and the media. Alex is a musician, rides a motorbike and helps out on the farm – but she isn’t a caricature of what it means to be gay. I really appreciated this representation and it goes to show that own voices literature has huge benefits.
I do, however, have a few issues with the plot and characters. I wasn’t a huge fan of Phoenix, especially towards the middle of the book. There came a turning point in the two girls’ relationship that made me feel a bit iffy towards Phoenix and I really felt for Alex in the situation. Alex is uncomfortable with showing public displays of affection, given that she is yet to come out to her family. She worries that it will be traumatic and life-altering and Phoenix doesn’t seem to understand the magnitude of the situation. When she attempts to kiss Alex in public, she declines, and an argument ensues. I’m not entirely sure if Phoenix is meant to be likeable in this situation, however it does show how people can be at different stages of their coming out journey, which I appreciated.
Another issue I had was the plot twist that happened towards the end of the book. While well-written and impactful, I felt blindsided by it and it completely changed the tone of the book. The story began to veer into The Fault in Our Stars territory and I felt as though I was reading an entirely different book. I think the narrative would have benefitted from spending more time dealing with the issues raised in this plot point, as it was completely life-changing for both characters but was over with quite swiftly. It was because of this issue that I ended up taking a star off my Goodreads rating.
That being said, Alicia Tuckerman is a strong debut YA author. If I was reading this back when I was 16 I would have devoured it. She knows her audience and she knows how to write LGBTQIA+ fiction for that audience. I could easily picture the characters and the setting and I could see this being adapted for TV. It gave me vibes of Dance Academy and Blue Water High in the sense that important social issues were tackled while also appealing to the young adult audience. I look forward to reading Alicia’s next release!
You can purchase If I Tell You from Underground Books, here.