Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales is marketed as an LGBTQ retelling of Grease, and really, that’s what sold me on it. I’ve always enjoyed Grease (though I have many thoughts on that problematic line in the first song), and so picking up this novel was a moment of true excitement for me. And while at first I wasn’t sure about the degree to which this novel could be compared to that film, I decided to watch the movie as I was reading this and suddenly a lot of smaller pieces fell into place.
The biggest complaint I have about Only Mostly Devastated is the fact that is it singularly told from one perspective. Gonzales gives us some amazing characters, but we see them all through the lens of Ollie, the novel’s resident Sandy. There’s a lot of nuance to the many characters throughout this book, but really the only perspective I think it actually needed was that of Will Travers, the novel’s Danny Zuko.
The single point of view really took away from the novel.
Ollie, already out and from the more accepting California, has an amazing summer with closeted Will Travers just as Sandy once had with Danny. When Ollie’s parents make the decision to remain in North Carolina to help his mother’s sister who has recently been diagnosed with cancer, he is excited at the possibility of being able to keep up his summer romance. But when he begins school suddenly Will decides to pretend he and Ollie have never met all for the sake of keeping his secret, well, secret.
Will does a lot throughout the book to keep his friends and family from finding out that he is bisexual and had a summer romance with the new boy in school. The biggest problem I see with that is the fact that Will’s perspective is only ever seen through Ollie’s eyes. I think, for some, this can make it difficult to justify or, at the very least, understand Will’s decisions. Like Danny, Will makes a number of mistakes that are genuinely hurtful to Ollie.
This does, unfortunately, include not calling his friends out for their awful gay jokes and, a moment you might recognize from the film, dancing with his ex-girlfriend in order to throw his friends off finding out his secret. Admittedly, these pieces can certainly be seen as problematic. Ultimately, that’s partially why I think the book would have benefited so much from including Will’s point of view.
While Ollie is not so self-focused as to not understand Will’s feelings, a lot of the feelings that motivated Will’s decisions are kind of lost to the reader. They are only given through Ollie’s realizations and dialogue throughout the novel, leaving everything kind of one-sided. There was a missed opportunity in getting to know and understanding Will.
Aside from that, this novel was phenomenal.
The story overall was an immense amount of fun to read. The characters were brilliant, each with their own Grease spin. And while the Rizzo pregnancy scare is swapped for a different story line, I never really felt like I was missing anything from the movie that I needed in the novel. I was able to sit back and enjoy the journey with no problem at all. I loved Ollie most of all.
Only Mostly Devastated is one of those keep you up all night novels and I even found myself trying to sneak chapters in while I was at work just to find out what happened next. It’s very easy to find yourself invested in the characters and their tale. I adored Juliette, Lara, and Niamh. Lara’s story, an alternate to Rizzo’s, took center stage over the other two girls. To be honest, I kind of preferred it this way.
Ollie’s Aunt’s battle with cancer is the most glaring diversion from the Grease film. It packs an emotional punch, for sure, and adds some realism to the novel that, admittedly, I didn’t really love. I won’t say I hated it, because I didn’t. I definitely think that the novel benefited from this side plot, but it wasn’t the reason I read the book. I’ve never been much of a “sad book” reader, and so some aspects of the cancer piece just didn’t really resonate with me.
Gonzales’ Only Mostly Devastated was released just two days ago on March 3rd, so go grab yourself a copy!
This truly was a fantastic read and it’s one I think a great many people will enjoy. If it’s not on your TBR yet, you should probably go add it right now. You’ll be glad you did. I know I was.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.