Be Dazzled

Sourcebooks/Fire. Jan. 2021. 384p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781492682691.
Gr 9 Up–Boston teen Raphael Odom is a master crafter and cosplayer. His livestream views are picking up, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win first place, and an art school scholarship, at Trip-C (the Controverse Championship of Cosplay). However, Raphael is also the son of Evie Odom: Renowned artist, gallery owner, and vehement anti-crafter. He hides his passion from her, secretly buying supplies and sneaking out to cons with best friend May. His anxiety and perfectionism are only manageable through the meditative process of crafting—alone. When playful, closeted jock Luca Vitale takes an interest in him, he’s a beautiful distraction who disrupts Raffy’s routine and forces him to embrace spontaneity. The novel explores Raffy’s shifting relationship with cosplay, and with Luca, in intersecting chronologies; one story line follows present-day Raffy dealing with their break-up and Trip-C, while the couple’s courtship is told in flashback. La Sala deftly builds the mounting tension of the competition alongside the budding relationship and its inevitable end—though a happy ending shines through. The heavier elements of the novel are buoyed by abundant humor, heartwarming romance, and the overall message of embracing your deepest, geekiest self. Raffy’s introversion, and the way he processes his anxiety through creating, will resonate with anyone who finds strength and security in their hobbies. Luca is Italian American and Rafael’s ethnicity isn’t named.
VERDICT Teen readers active in the con and cosplay scene will love seeing themselves depicted with the gentle humor of an in-group character. A crafty queer romance about self-acceptance, and a delightful addition to YA collections.

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