Honestly, my big takeaway after I finished reading Breath of Flowers by Caly is that it made me deeply uncomfortable. I think a very tiny part of the problem might stem from the fact that, if you read the synopsis, you go into the book expecting something slightly different. But even the synopsis makes you suspect and worry the book could be problematic. But still, a part of you hopes that the subject matter will be well handled. Well, the truth is that Breath of Flowers is less cute than you’d expect and more problematic than anything else it might have been.
Here’s the thing: I think Breath of Flowers had a lot of potential with its premise. You’ve got a young girl, Azami, whose best friend really likes yuri and yaoi (mangas that portray m/m and f/f relationships). She doesn’t understand her friend’s love for the stories and, in fact, feels that only girls and boys can be attracted to each other. But then she finds out that her long-time crush, Gwen, on the basketball team is actually a girl and not the boy she believed. Okay, so there’s a recipe for someone coming to terms with their problematic views and learning how to grow as a person. There’s an opportunity for a story about a transgender person.
None of that is what we get.
Azami is homophobic from the start of the novel and while it does appear that she grows out of that somewhat, you never fully feel that she does. And this is a weird thing for me to say because at times I really did feel like she’d grown as a person. And then at others, she seemed as though she hadn’t. One thing that stood out to me was how little she seemed to understand about Gwen and her absolutely horrible mistreatment of this girl when she finds out Gwen is not actually a boy.
Speaking of, Gwen is not actually trans. Rather she is only pretending to be a boy so that she can play her favorite sport at their school, which is known for having a great basketball team. And of course, there are the few problematic pieces that I’m including under a spoiler tag since it’s a fair part of the story.
And at the end of all this, we’re left with a story about two girls who are dating where the relationship is far from healthy for a number of reasons, some of which are mentioned above, and some which involve unreasonable jealousy. I felt bad for not liking this. But at the same time, I just couldn’t get past how uncomfortable all of these things made me feel? I’d been looking for an uplifting story about a girl who grew past her ignorance and the development of a relationship between this girl and a trans man. And while I wouldn’t have bee upset with a relationship between two females that was healthy, neither my expectation or a healthy relationship is what I got.
So, I guess that’s that.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.