Autoboyography by Christina Lauren – ‘Cute’ Doesn’t Absolve This Book of Its Problems

Text: Autoboyography, Christina Lauren. Image depicts the silhouettes of two boys, holding hands, standing on the spine of a book; the background is blue and filled with stars.
Blurb:

Three years ago, Tanner Scott’s family relocated from California to Utah, a move that nudged the bisexual teen temporarily back into the closet. Now, with one semester of high school to go, and no obstacles between him and out-of-state college freedom, Tanner plans to coast through his remaining classes and clear out of Utah.

But when his best friend Autumn dares him to take Provo High’s prestigious Seminar—where honor roll students diligently toil to draft a book in a semester—Tanner can’t resist going against his better judgment and having a go, if only to prove to Autumn how silly the whole thing is. Writing a book in four months sounds simple. Four months is an eternity.

It turns out, Tanner is only partly right: four months is a long time. After all, it takes only one second for him to notice Sebastian Brother, the Mormon prodigy who sold his own Seminar novel the year before and who now mentors the class. And it takes less than a month for Tanner to fall completely in love with him.

My review:

When I read reviews for Autoboyography, I had expected a cute and fluffy story that would melt my heart. Autoboyography follows Tanner, a bisexual teen, who enrols in a class to draft a novel in a semester and meets Sebastian Brother, a Mormon prodigy, and is about the undeniable attraction the two boys share. A queer romance that was hyped up to be adorable and heart-melty and lovely? I was on board immediately.

Perhaps this is a case of mismatched expectations (and friends, we really have to talk about when it is safe to call books ‘cute’ and ‘fluffy’ because this book was certainly not), but I did not find Autoboyography fluffy and cute. I have to admit: I’m confused over the utter and overwhelming adoration for this book. Part of it is because it’s a me-thing (which I acknowledge wholeheartedly and will discuss in my review), and part of it because this book has problems that I struggle to get past.

The most intense insta-love I’ve ever read

Insta-love can be either a good or bad thing, and I acknowledge that it is a matter of preference. In general, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with insta-love (‘instant love’). I believe insta-love exists: the powerful and mutual attraction between two people. I understand why people dislike insta-love, particularly if the romance is poorly developed and if there is no connection beyond that initial moment of attraction. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it and, in some cases, insta-love can be an interesting and compelling trope that may examine how a relationship develops over time.

Thus, a disclaimer: The depiction of insta-love in Autoboyography was one of the most intense I’ve ever read. For some people, this may be cute and swoony, but I personally found it to be a bit too much for my liking. Therefore, if extremely intense and overwhelming depictions of insta-love are not your thing, then this book may not be for you. Conversely, if you love depictions of strong attraction (which is valid!) or if they don’t bother you very much, then you might like Autoboyography. Both positions are valid.

Not as cute and fluffy as people say

All that I had heard about Autoboyography prior to reading it was that the book was so cute and swoony and fluffy. Thus, when I read this book, I was… surprised. I felt a little misled by what everyone had been saying about this book. I think we need to be cautious about calling any book that depicts joy and love to be automatically a ‘cute’ and ‘fluffy’ book. In my eyes, a ‘fluffy’ book is one that depicts a romance where the characters are safe from violence and harm; it’s a book that can be thoroughly enjoyed without triggering real-life fears. Romance stories can, and sometimes should, represent conflicting and tumultuous experiences, and I don’t believe that all romances should be ‘fluffy’. However, I just think we should be careful with how we label books, and that we should be cautious about immediately labelling any book, especially those that depict a queer romance, as ‘cute’ and ‘fluffy’, when in actuality Autoboyography is more than just a cute romance. If I was surprised, it is also likely that others may go into this book expecting a fluffy book, when in actuality, it examines some challenging topics as well.

Autoboyography may be a contemporary romance between two boys, but it also explores tough topics such as being gay when you are part of a religion that believes that queer relationships are a sin (a reality that many queer teens face, and is associated with many genuine and complex feelings and fears?), having to keep their relationship a secret because of the ever-present fear of being outed (which is a fear that both Sebastian and Tanner have throughout the book, particularly because they live in a very conservative town and being outed would have terrible consequences), and grappling with one’s sexual identity and faith. In addition, Sebastian, who is gay and Mormon, faces the fear of being excommunicated and disowned by his family. Although Autoboyography does have its cute and fluffy moments, I don’t think this is a ‘cute’ and ‘fluffy’ book at all, and we should be careful of labelling it as such.

So, what is Autoboyography then? Autoboyography is a contemporary romance between two queer boys: two boys who come from two different worlds – one has grown up in a more liberal and accepting household where his family accepts his bisexual identity, and the other has grown up Mormon, believes that being gay is a sin (and initially outright refuses to call himself ‘gay’), and resists who he is. It examines how faith shapes the way that we perceive the world, others, and love, and the conflict that arises when these two worlds collide.

The poorly developed romance was … iffy

Extending the points above, my biggest issue with Autoboyography was that the romance was poorly developed. I wouldn’t have minded the insta-love/physical attraction so much, intense as it may be, if Tanner and Sebastian’s relationship developed or grew beyond just that, but it just… doesn’t. For a decently sized story, there was a lot of physical intimacy and tension, but I wasn’t sold on the emotional intimacy. It felt like an intense and physical infatuation, and not at all like the love that it was presented to be.

Which brings me to my next point: I found the romance… iffy. Because I didn’t feel like Tanner and Sebastian’s relationship had any substance beyond physical attraction, I felt uncomfortable with how pushy and persistent Tanner was with Sebastian. Sebastian is a Mormon, his family and almost everyone that he knows is Mormon, and, his community has excommunicated and ostracised ex-Mormon people for being gay. Not only would Tanner pursuing a romance with Sebastian risk outing the latter, but it would mean that Sebastian would have to pay the price for it, a price he was not wholly prepared to pay. Despite the risks that Sebastian faces (risks that are extremely valid and real), Tanner nonetheless pursues a relationship with Sebastian without much careful thought or consideration of the challenging position that Sebastian would be in. The authors frame Tanner’s persistence as an outcome of his strong attraction, but it made me uncomfortable, considering the significant implications for Sebastian and the fact that Tanner and Sebastian barely know each other. I mean, if this story was told from Sebastian’s point of view and was about his struggle with his gay identity and his religious beliefs, I would have felt really weird about a love interest (i.e., Tanner) being pushy. I felt really weird that we were supposed to perceive Tanner’s persistence and behaviour as cute.

Furthermore, Tanner’s parents call him out and warn Tanner that pursuing a relationship with Sebastian might put Sebastian at risk, to which Tanner is like, ‘yeah… okay… but… I can’t help my feelings’. My issue is not that love isn’t something that is worth fighting for – and I do believe that love is worth fighting for! and all queer people are deserving of love, acceptance, support, and the opportunity to be who they are – but these issues were not explored with the sensitivity and nuance that they deserve. I also do believe that love is incredibly important and being true to who you love is important but there really are contexts in which ‘love conquers all!’ is more complex than that. Yes, I think it’s important to challenge anti-queer rhetoric within institutions and acknowledge that the harm that such beliefs and rhetoric causes (which the book does, somewhat), but I also think it’s also important to be sensitive of Sebastian’s challenging and complex position of being Mormon and being gay and his conflict between the two. Packaging this story into something that is just love and fluff and clean without really grappling with the complexity of these issues just feels like a disservice to how fraught this topic can be.

Let’s talk about Autumn, who deserved so much better

As well as loose plot threads that didn’t see fruition despite them being framed as important pieces of the story (what happened to the prom that was hyped up in the book so much?), I was incredibly frustrated by the treatment of Autumn, Tanner’s best friend. It didn’t bother me that Autumn was presented as a female character that was ‘unlikeable’ – that was fine. However, nothing rivalled how ludicrous and how painfully unnecessary a specific scene in the book was. Spoilers in the next section, although I think this is a spoiler you should go in (should you choose to read this book) with both eyes open.

Partway through the story, Tanner and Sebastian break off their relationship. Distraught by this, the authors describe Tanner going into a weird lucid daze from his grief, goes to Autumn’s house, and – they have sex. Not only was this just so… uncomfortable, this was an issue for several reasons. First, Autumn is in love with Tanner. Second, Tanner knows that Autumn has feelings for him. Third, Autumn and Tanner once kissed (or, made out) in the past. Fourth, Autumn is a virgin. Fifth, I am really tired of these tropes where grief-stricken characters do extremely reckless things — and in Autoboyography, Tanner has reckless sex with his best friend who loves him even though he doesn’t love her. Okay, sure, sometimes relationship fallout is messy and sometimes people make bad choices, but… why? Why was this scene necessary? Why was the mess further compounded when Autumn, later on, takes responsibility for Tanner’s actions for having sex with her? Why is Autumn being treated as collateral for Tanner and Sebastian’s relationship and their development?

I just… I just don’t understand this. Why was this scene was necessary? What was the point of this? And why does no one talk about this scene, which was a significant turning point in the book, but was just so wrong and never properly addressed, challenged, scrutinised? I just don’t understand it. And it frustrates me that others have neglected to address this and have instead focused on how cute this was. This scene, how Autumn was treated and the implications, were far from cute. It was horrible, it didn’t have the development nor was it examined with a critical perspective to justify it, and it just made me so uncomfortable.

MY CONCLUSION: NOT RECOMMENDED

Listen, I really did wish that I loved this book, because nothing brings me more joy than queer kids being happy and finding love. Unfortunately, I really struggled to get past these issues. This book was just not for me at all.

Goodreads | Book Depository | My short review on Goodreads


Is this book for you?

Premise in a sentence: A bisexual boy falls in love with a gay Mormon boy.

Genre: young adult contemporary romance

Trigger/content warning: institutionalised/religious anti-gay rhetoric, excommunication, anti-bi rhetoric


Let’s discuss

A last note before closing: If you are bi, gay, and/or religious, and you felt seen by this book and its representation, then that is absolutely valid and it is not my intent to take that away from you or undermine your feelings towards this book, its characters, and the romance. I am open to respectful discussion about this book and my interpretation of this book with readers and other book reviewers.

46 thoughts on “Autoboyography by Christina Lauren – ‘Cute’ Doesn’t Absolve This Book of Its Problems

  1. I read autoboyography almost a year ago and I gave it a 3 stars. I know there’s been discussion about three star ratings not being bad, but I feel like my particular star rating for the book was a bad three stars. I actually understood the insta-love, but what I was bothered by was the high presence of intimate scenes in the book which is totally my preference. But what really bothered me was autumn’s character too. I felt like she wasn’t given much depth besides being tanner’s best friend who would do basically anything for him. And yes, that really unnecessary scene bothered me to much too. It was not needed! But I thought the exploration of being queer but also religious was actually subtly done in the book, not looking down on Mormonism and not too preachy. But overall, the overbearing presence of intense romance and autumn’s characters were really a miss for me. I also didn’t notice how pushy tanner was being in the book, but I’ve realized how skeezy his actions were thanks to your review!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Caitlin!
      Yes, I agree. I wish we saw more of Autumn, particularly because she had such a big role in the turning points of the story, so her just being *there* was just… weird and uncomfortable.
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Caitlin. Appreciate it! 💛

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m glad you ended up posting your review, CW! I agree with everything you wrote, even though I initially rated it four stars, and later lowered it to three. I hate to admit it, but part of why I rated it up was because I felt like I was “wrong” to dislike something that a lot of people adore, including a lot of my blogger friends. Tanner was definitely incredibly pushy, but I was also very angry at Tanner’s parents. As far as I understood Tanner’s parents had well-paying jobs even before moving there for their new jobs, so I felt it so ignorant and horrible that they would force their son to become closeted again when he was so happy and comfortable with being out. Were this a family who needed to move, because they needed the money or couldn’t afford to live in a big city anymore I’d never judge, but this way? It felt icky. And poor Autumn, I didn’t like Tanner’s reckless decision to sleep with her, and the way she ended up taking most of the blame made me sooo uncomfortable. Plus, this idea of Tanner not being himself because of his grief and whatnot adds to the narrative that men cannot control themselves and you shouldn’t blame them for it… Yikes, just yikes. I tried another novel by the authors and could barely get through it, it had this one thing in particular that was so ignorant and annoying, but it was presented as “cute”… ANYHOW, great review, CW! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Veronika! 💛
      It isn’t wrong to feel obligated to like something more than you should because others liked it a lot. That’s so normal! And the pressure is subtle but it’s there, and I completely understand.

      Ugh yes. I didn’t mention that in my review, but I really hated that and it was just… such a weird plot/context decision, and I wondered whether the authors thought it through.

      Thank you for the super thoughtful and awesome comment, Veronika!! This was a really meaningful addition to the discussion (and I always love hearing from you), so thank you so much. 💛

      Like

  3. Thank you so much for this incredible review, CW! ❤
    I really enjoyed Autoboyography back when I read it, as I felt very seen by the bisexual rep, but I acknowledge it’s *quite* messy, and I agree with you on the treatment of Autumn. I understand Tanner was essentially “going through it”, but that still doesn’t excuse his behavior ://

    Liked by 2 people

    • I totally understand feeling seen by the bi rep! And I hope that there are more books with bi rep in the future, so you continue to feel seen and represented in literature. 💛
      Yes, I agree. It’s a shame those things were included in the story, when I feel like they didn’t add much anyway. :/

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I totally agree with you about the bad part (especially people calling it cute). I gave it 4 starts BECAUSE of Sebastian going through what he did ie what I wanted the book to be. While a lot of books with queer teens have them face homophobia from their family, most of them are secular or slightly religious. This was the first book that even came close to discussing what it’s like to grow up absolutely terrified of going to hell and then realizing that you can never be good enough because you are always sinning just by existing. That’s representation I’m still looking for and I think that the overwhelming presence of straight women writing m/m stories and f/f stories being ignored is a big factor why we’re not seeing this. And when those stories are told they should never be labeled as cute or fluffy.

    Something similar happened when I read More Happy Than not by Adam Silvera. People had to me how great it was but no one mentioned the CW for self harm and suicide. I read it thinking I would have a good time and I ended up in a ball, sobbing, and with my skin buzzing. I don’t think another book has ever triggered me that bad. If I had know I could have prepared myself, but no, instead people told me it was “a great coming of age story”.

    With all the progress in LGBTQ+ representation in YA I feel a lot of people forget that there’s still work to be done and that we deserve all kinds of stories. We shouldn’t have to settle for that one book.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello! Thank you so much for such a lovely and thoughtful comment.

      I cannot agree and empathise with you more. I think the themes and discussions within Autoboyography are important, but I really wish that it was done better — religious queer teens really deserve it. I can understand loving the book because it spoke to you — I understand that feeling completely and it’s valid. 💛

      Oh goodness, yes. More Happy Than Not is indeed not a cute and fluffy book at all, and is such a challenging read and one that does warrant some warnings.

      I agree. I hope for more diverse representation, particularly in the areas that involve religion, so that you all have more choices and stories to read. Again, you all really deserve an array of stories, and – agreed! – not just one. 💛

      Like

  5. Ummmm, wow. Not what I was expecting this book would be like after all the cute and fluffy and happy I have seen associated with this book.

    The way you’ve described it has made me realize that I would definitely not like this book. If nothing else, the way Autumn was treated is a big NO in my book and knowing this scene exists, I would never pick this book up, even if everything else in it was perfect, which we know it’s not.

    Thank you so much for this articulate review. It is absolutely well written and thought out. Amazingly written. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Prags!
      I felt the same whilst reading it! It seems a lot of people have gotten the impression that this book is cute and fluffy, and I think that’s indicative of how we perceive and talk about books with queer characters.

      I’m glad that this review could be helpful to you, Prags. 💛

      Like

  6. Absolutely amazing review. Although I enjoyed this book when I read it, the points you make are totally true. While I feel like some of what mentioned (i.e. the labelling of it being “cute” and “fluffy”) are directly related to fans’ reception of the book rather than the authors’ intentions, they’re still incredibly necessary points to be made—and I don’t think that they invalidate your stance on the book at all. Honestly, I had completely forgotten that scene with Autumn; I probably willfully blocked it from my memory since she was my favorite character when I read the book. Thank you for posting this review.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thanks for this review CW! I rated this book 3 stars because I had similar problems with it. Tanner’s behaviour was very annoying in the book and tbh, I didn’t like him at all. I also really disliked the fact that he and Autumn and sex and she took the blame. In addition, her being a virgin whose first time was with a guy who didn’t love her wasn’t discussed. It would have made an incredible point to talk about. Especially for young teens.
    I never mention this book when I’m giving LGBTQ+ recommendations. It had really bad parts. Great review!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Thank you for your review! I said the same in my review about almost everything (I feel like I’m speaking into the void because everyone else seems to love it) – the treatment of Autumn, the insta-love, and what I think I’d the creepiest part of this book: how Tanner writes a romance book about himself and Sebastian for class… despite not yet knowing Sebastian.
    And you’re right: Tanner is extremely pushy of Sebastian and doesn’t seem to understand the danger of a queer person coming out when they have an extremely religious family.
    Maybe another author could have dissected these issues but I don’t think these authors did it any justice.
    Great review!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Laura!!
      I just had a read through your book review, and OH MY GOODNESS. I’m so glad that I’m not alone in my thoughts and opinions of this book. Your review was brilliant.
      You made a really astute point about Tanner’s bisexual representation — I’m not bi, so I felt like I couldn’t speak on the rep, but when you lay out the issues like you did — yikes.
      I agree — the issues themselves explored in the book are important, but I don’t think the authors have the lived experience or did the adequate research to do them justice, which is a shame, since I am certain that some teens needed books like this.

      Thank you for your incredible review as well, and for reaching out. 💛

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I haven’t read this book myself, but thank you for writing such an even- handed and well thought out review. I know how difficult it can be to write a review of a book with problematic elements, particularly one that’s very popular, but I think you did it pretty much perfectly here!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Interesting. I totally read that scene as Autumn taking advantage of his emotional distress to get what she wanted from him (sex) which I thought was weird and out of character for her, but that’s still what it felt like. I seem to be in the minority there.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Thanks so much for this review! I hadn’t seen too much criticism of it but for some reason was hesitant to pick it up. I’m so glad I didn’t tbh. It sounds like there are some really problematic aspects in it that aren’t fully addressed. Thank you for being so honest in your review!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Jamie!
      Thank you for your kind words! Unfortunately, the way the story was handled and developed wasn’t great. The topics that it addresses are incredibly important, and I wish the story was written and developed better and more. :/ It’s a shame.

      Like

  12. Thanks for this insightful review, it was very interesting to read! I did love the book myself, and I’m hoping to reread it soon, but you definitely have some fair points and I’ll keep those in the back of my head when I reread. I fully agree it’s not a fluffy, cute book at all. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book with this much angst, so that doesn’t quite seem like a fitting description. I feel like it fits in with a sort of tendency people have to call any and every queer relationship “soft” and “cute” and “fluffy”, especially m/m relationships, and it really borders on fetishizing imo🙊

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Anniek!
      Thank you for your honest and thoughtful comment. 💛💛 You make an incredibly important point, and I cannot agree more. It was the same with Simon Vs, that had a very intense outing subplot, but people called it cute and fluffy anyway? It was a great book but yeah… I feel like people need to be careful about how they label books, and how labelling anything that is queer as automatically cute/fluffy is reductive of the stories and, yes! fetishising as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. First of all: thank you so much for your honest review. I am bi and this book has been on my TBR since before it even came out, but I just haven’t gotten around to it. While I’m always hungry (starving, actually) for good bi rep, I have to completely agree with all the issues you brought up. I think what bothers me the most is what you mentioned about Tanner having reckless sex with Autumn. Having not read the book, it’s hard to say what, exactly, the author was going for; having not read the book, this comes across as an attempt to “solidify” Tanner’s bi ID despite most of the book being a m/m relationship…but having reckless sex is another bi stereotype that definitely doesn’t need anymore attention. I’m definitely taking this off my TBR and I’m so glad you drew attention to this. Few things hurt more than going to a book to see yourself and coming away even more hurt than you were before. So thank you again for writing this.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Christine!
      Thank you so much for sharing your perspective and your insights here with me. Another book blogger has suggested that it was possible that the Autumn scene was more of her taking advantage of a grief-stricken Tanner, which was out of character for her anyway.
      But I can definitely see how that scene plays into very icky stereotypes and tropes about bi people.
      You’re very welcome, and I’m glad I could help.

      If you do want books with bi rep though, I do recommend reading NOT YOUR SIDEKICK and SEVEN TEARS AT HIGH TIDE, both by C.B. Lee! Her bi rep is great and wholesome.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I read NOT YOUR SIDEKICK a while back (I think actually based on your review, if I’m remembering correctly…it was over a year ago when I was doing a different blog so it’s hard to say for sure). It really is so hard to find great bi rep, but I’m thankful that people like you write honest reviews like this to help people avoid harmful rep.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. A well-thought out a thorough review, CW. I remember seeing this multiple times and wanting to pick it up, but now I’m glad I stayed away. I’m not sure I would have been able to be as perceptive as you were in this review.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Thank you for writing this, I’ve been so close to buying this book but after reading this post I’m definitely not going to, I would have ended up with all the same thoughts reading the book that you explained here (plus insta-love being my most hated trope), I’m glad my money now gets to go to a book I would enjoy much more

    Liked by 2 people

  16. I read Autoboyography last year and I really enjoyed it, but I think you have really valid points in this review! Especially when it comes to Autumn! She really was just doing her best and ruing to be a good friend throughout the entire book and Tanner really did not reciprocate it. But when Autumn and Tanner’s sexual interaction. . . it was not good. It made me so uncomfortable and I don’t understand why the authors thought it would be a good idea to include that interaction.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. oh man, I’m so grateful you decided to post this review – because I’ve only heard it described as “cute and fluffy” and would not have been going into it aware of all the issues. intimate pressure within a relationship is something that can make me really uncomfortable due to personal experience, so definitely not something I would want to be blindsided by (and wouldn’t have anticipated based on what everyone says about this book being so fluffy). and the way Autumn is treated, on top of everything else, means this book really doesn’t sound like something I would enjoy. thank you again for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Isabelle!

      I’m glad that I shared the review as well. I totally understand — it makes me really uncomfortable as well, and I’m really sensitive to any form of pressure, and I felt like it wasn’t highlighted enough (or at all?) among other reviews.

      You’re so welcome. I hope you find another book that’s worth your time!

      Liked by 1 person

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