Beating Heart Baby

­Flatiron. Aug. 2022. 352p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250819093.
Gr 10 Up–Seventeen-year-old Santi’s life has been a mess since his childhood best friend (a person Santi had only known online as “Memo”) ghosted him. With the loss of Memo, Santi also lost a part of himself. To help Santi move on and reconnect with life, Aya, Santi’s guardian, moves them to her hometown of Los Angeles and pushes her charge to join the marching band that was so pivotal to her in her youth. There, Santi is welcomed with open arms by nearly everyone, except for one surly boy named Suwa, a musical genius who seems destined for a promising career. When Santi helps Suwa through a panic attack, the two forge a truce, which tenuously turns into friendship before blossoming into love. However, when Santi shares a painful realization, Suwa cuts Santi and their friends out of his life without a word. The love story between Santi, who identifies as Filipino, and Suwa, whose family is of Japanese and Korean descent, builds slowly and vividly, then shatters suddenly, leaving readers as bereft as Santi himself. There is a breadth of ethnic diversity and LGBTQIA+ representation in this book (including Santi, who is bisexual, and Suwa, who is a transgender man), and the supporting characters are so nuanced they could be the leads in stories of their own. This gorgeous debut deftly explores themes around gender dysphoria, abuse, loss, anxiety and depression.
VERDICT A must-have for all collections serving older teens—especially those looking to add more high-quality realistic queer fiction to their shelves.

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