I’m a sucker for a book whose plot and themes revolve around what the characters see versus what they understand. Diana Wynne Jones, one of my favorite authors, was brilliant at this, and fantasy in general is a rich playground for making these themes literal. In Reverie, Ryan La Sala weaves a rich, glittering, and complex illusion, a reverse Alice in Wonderland that’ll take you on a fantastic ride. It’s a fantastic debut, #OwnVoices YA novel that’s well worth the read.
Reverie is the story of Kane Montgomery, the only openly queer teenager in a small college town. A week before the start of the book, Kane ran away from home, crashed the family car into a river, and, possibly, burned the local mill. Kane wouldn’t know, because he can’t remember any of it. With his parents, his sister Sophia, the police, and a glamorous, mysterious figure named Dr. Poesy all asking Kane what happened the night the mill burned down, Kane tries to find the answers, only to find there’s more to unravel than he could believe.
Reverie is the kind of novel that has layers (like an onion, or an ogre) that peel back the further you go, and the focus of the novel is those layers. I read the novel expecting at some point for it to unfold more traditionally, with a plot that moved in a basically straight line, which is something the novel resists as much as possible. While there is a plot unfolding, at the same time, much of the important detail is unfolding in reverse, or sideways. Kane is surrounded by unfamiliar objects, people, and a ton of unanswered questions, and he quickly realizes not all is as it seems; many characters are clearly lying to him, concealing truths, or simply don’t fit in with what little he knows about what’s going on. The novel focuses on how Kane navigates being in the middle of a world, of a story, that he suddenly lacks context for, and his struggles to make a new context.
Reverie is a queer novel, and I don’t merely mean to say that it is about a gay character with a healthy serving of LGBT side characters. As the novel puts it, “Kane was the last to know he was gay and therefore powerless to deny it once he was finally told.” Like many queer people, Kane has been visibly queer since he was young, and it set him apart from his peers early on and kept him apart, “in the limbo between the worlds of boys and girls.” Kane’s queerness powers the novel because it has put him perpetually at odds with other human beings, because it makes him reluctant to trust others and to trust that things are as they appear to be. It’s both an asset and a problem, as Kane frequently derails best-laid plans and seemingly simple chapters by being mistrustful, or reluctant to accept simple answers. It resonated powerfully with me as a queer reader, and it’s truly refreshing to read a book where a character’s queerness is essential, yet not the entire point of their existence.
There’s also the general existence of Poesy, a drag queen with mysterious motives. Kane is totally awed by Poesy, and Reverie truly makes her a stand out character. The way she dominates the novel every time she shows up feels very true to the real life glamour and poise of drag queens. Again, La Sala takes a character’s queerness and shows the ways in which it makes them not just queer, but powerful. It’s a very welcome theme that La Sala pulls of flawlessly. (Just like Poesy’s wigs.)
I spent the first half of this novel not entirely sure if I liked it, honestly, in large part because of the way that it defies easy structure. Kane’s mistrustful nature also means that there is a lot of anger and drama in certain parts. I deal particularly badly with drama and negative character relationships, so even though I understood that I was reading well-written conflict, it was hard for me to push myself to get to the parts where that drama was better explained. But if you find yourself uncertain as I was, I urge you to continue.
This is a great novel that is meant to be unfolded, unraveled, untied. It’s a book you need to sit with and consider, with a lot of beautiful gems. Keep going, and you’ll find yourself whisked off to a wonderful, breathtaking series of worlds, cheering for both heroes and villains, and enjoying a complex story and characters that defy anything easy. You’ll enjoy this novel if you enjoy intrigue, dreams, high fantasy, high queerness, and impeccable and mysterious drag queens. Reverie by Ryan La Sala is a journey, and it’s one worth taking.
Talk to the reviewer on Twitter @yipp33kiyay, which I regret to inform you is a Die Hard reference. I received this book as a subscribing member of Book of the Month; I was not gifted this book, nor was I paid for my review.