Book Review: Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun by Jonny Garza Villa – A Vulnerable and Warmly Funny Story about First Love, Coming Out, and Loving Oneself

Blurb:

A poignant, funny, openhearted novel about coming out, first love, and being your one and only best and true self.

Julián Luna has a plan for his life: Graduate. Get into UCLA. And have the chance to move away from Corpus Christi, Texas, and the suffocating expectations of others that have forced Jules into an inauthentic life.

Then in one reckless moment, with one impulsive tweet, his plans for a low-key nine months are thrown—literally—out the closet. The downside: the whole world knows, and Jules has to prepare for rejection. The upside: Jules now has the opportunity to be his real self.

Then Mat, a cute, empathetic Twitter crush from Los Angeles, slides into Jules’s DMs. Jules can tell him anything. Mat makes the world seem conquerable. But when Jules’s fears about coming out come true, the person he needs most is fifteen hundred miles away. Jules has to face them alone.

Jules accidentally propelled himself into the life he’s always dreamed of. And now that he’s in control of it, what he does next is up to him.

I was provided an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Somewhere, sometime, a queer teen will read Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun, hold this story close to their chest, the story finding a home in their heart. What an illuminating and poignant book Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun is; a book that deftly balances the softness and joy of first love and steadfast friendship but also the sharp and painful edges of heteronormativity and anti-gay prejudice. Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun is soft, beautiful, triumphant, painful, heart-aching, and bittersweet – and I suppose it’s a little like life, isn’t it?

Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun follows Julián, a Chicano teen who accidentally outs himself after a drunken and fun night spent with friends. While he grapples with being out to his friends, his homophobic father, and college in the horizon, Jules finds himself falling hard and fast for his Twitter crush, Mat, who lives on the other side of the country.

I struggle to properly articulate how Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun makes me feel – except that when I think about it, my heart feels overwhelmed with so much love for this book. This is the kind of book that will save a reader’s life; will make a reader out there feel seen, loved, and understood. Not only is it written with humour and a charming narrative voice, it is so evident while reading Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun that this is a book of Jonny’s heart. I felt the love and empathy and vulnerability flowing through this book, which made my reading experience of this book all the more special and tender.

There are many things that I love about Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun but I have to say, the romance in this melted my heart, filled with moments that had me grinning like a love-struck fool. There was so much chemistry between Jules and Mat – and being in a long-distance relationship, I also loved the yearning, the teasing, the banter, and the challenges of not being able to be next to the person you love when they are hurting. Above all, I just loved that Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun gives us to queer kids of colour who are happy and discover the joy of falling in love with someone.

I also enjoyed how authentic and unapologetic the representation in this book was. By that, I mean that this book has plenty of code-switching (between English and Spanish), and I really enjoyed reading this. I don’t understand Spanish, but I reflected on how I talk with my family and friends; that I don’t just speak just English with them, but mix English with a sprinkle of other languages when I speak. This felt like a beautiful homage to culture and being part of diaspora; that when Jules speaks Spanish with his friends and family, he also speaks that with love, trust, and comfort. In addition, I also loved that Jules, being Chicano, and Mat, being Vietnamese, were able to share their languages, their food, and their heritage with each other.

The friendships in this book were also absolutely gorgeous. I loved that Jules had a friend group that loved him and cherished him fiercely; friends that – even when things get tough, when you disagree, or when you might argue – will have your back at the end of the day. The way the friendships in this book were portrayed, developed, and how they intertwined with the storyline was wonderful. With all the banter and the excellent comedy that had me laughing too, by the end of the book, I felt that Jules friends were my friends as well. I think the friendships in Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun may be some of the best friendships I have seen in young adult fiction.

Whilst there is a lot of softness, joy, and love in Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun, it also depicts the sharp and fraught reality of being a queer teen living in the same household with an unaccepting and bigoted parent. Jules’s father embodies machismo and heteronormative patriarchy, suffocating Jules who endeavours to live his authentic self. And yet, we also see that Jules and his father have moments of quiet happiness together as well, which makes their relationship more complicated. The scenes with Jules’s father can be difficult to read, but the scenes were handled with sensitivity and care. Rather than a ‘pain narrative’, this aspect of Jules’s life is vulnerable, honest, and so raw.

But, at the heart of this book, this story is about love, but it is also about how acceptance can be empowering and is a form of love. I loved Jules’s older sister, Xo; the way she shows her love to Jules was… well, it made me want a Xo myself, and it was wonderful to see an older sibling present and involved in their younger sibling’s life, accepting their decisions in life, empowering them and wanting what is best for them – while also being a side-eyeing older sister. Moreover, one of the reasons why I loved the friendships was because it felt so much like found family. Jules’s found family accept and love him no matter what, and seeing that immense, unconditional love for a queer teen of colour felt revolutionary and heartwarming. 

MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

With its immaculate storytelling and great humour, Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun is a tender love letter about first love, friendship, and what it means to live for yourself. I love this book with my whole being – and I feel like this has set the bar for contemporary romances at an astronomical level. Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun may be just a book, but it’s also a candle of joy and hope for queer readers everywhere. 

Is this book for you?

Premise in a sentence: When a teen accidentally outs himself after a drunken night of fun with his friends, he has to grapple with friendships, his unaccepting parent, and getting into college, while also falling in love with his Twitter crush living on the other side of the country.

Perfect for: Readers who loved Simon vs. The Homo Sapien Agenda; readers who would love a queer rom-com starring a queer teen of colour; readers who love sweet romances that balance with hard-hitting family stuff.

Think twice if: you might struggle with the homophobic parent plotline (note: it is challenged and resolved well)

Genre: young adult romance

Trigger/content warning: physical parental abuse, anti-gay prejudice, anti-gay slurs, bullying, depiction of sex (not explicit), parental abandonment, death of parent (mentioned, in the past)

Goodreads | Amazon | Indiebound | Book Depository | Bookshop | My short review on Goodreads

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Fifteen Hundred Miles from the Sun by Jonny Garza Villa – A Vulnerable and Warmly Funny Story about First Love, Coming Out, and Loving Oneself

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