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A tragic accident cuts short Dylan and Ellis’ relationship just when it seemed everything was going right - they’d come out earlier that day, everyone seemed to accept them and they were more in love than ever. But when Dylan wakes up in hospital to the news that his boyfriend is dead, he’s convinced that it wasn’t an accident but something much more sinister. Afterall, someone had filmed and outed them, someone had scared Ellis the previous night and someone had dragged him from the lake and left Ellis to drown.
You’d think that if the synopsis told me a character was going to die at the beginning of the book, I wouldn’t be shocked and upset when it happened. You’d be wrong. The way the accident and Dylan’s grief were written had me in tears early on in this book and by the end I’d possibly cried the most times I ever have while reading a book (and I do not cry easily). This story was gorgeous, haunting and raw and I loved every second of it.
This is where I tell you about the positives of this book and I don’t know where to start? So bear with, this could be a bit nonsensical. Having two timelines juxtaposed so neatly was incredibly effective. The past showed Dylan and Ellis’ relationship and really gave the reader a connection to Ellis’ character, while the present explored the mystery of Ellis’ death and his past actions. Their relationship was really sweet and sincere and I loved reading about it. I also loved them as individual characters; they were imperfect and that just made them all the more real. The mystery itself was also really good, I don’t want to say too much and spoil it but it was very fitting and well done. Also, the inclusion of content warnings at the start and resources at the end of the book is so important and I’m glad that they’re becoming more common.
The book touched on a number of important themes and although I’m only going to go into detail with one, I did also appreciate the subtle explorations of class divides, drug abuse and family. However, one of my favourite aspects of this book was the narrative around coming out and acceptance. I think it’s the most realistic and authentic way I’ve ever seen this subject written, and definitely reflects my own experiences to some extent. Often, the reaction to a queer person coming out is portrayed as being firmly at one end of the acceptance spectrum or another. In Hideous Beauty, I finally saw the middle ground represented. The conditional, surface level acceptance that is just not enough but no one wants to question.
The following quote came from the author’s note and I can’t stop thinking about it: ‘I discovered that the old prejudices and their impact hadn’t died. It was just that they now sometimes came with a mask of “acceptance”. A phony mask and a dangerous one because, as Dylan says to Mike, acceptance can’t be conditional.’ This is the reality for too many LGBTQ+ people and I hope this book can help open up this conversation.
I know this review may make it seem as if this book is very dark and sad, but it’s also so much more. Ellis and his relationship with Dylan bring so much light and hope to this book, along with some other lovely, supportive characters that I’ve neglected in this review (sorry, Mike!).
I literally cannot think of any negatives to include here to balance my review, so guess what? I’m not going to! If you can’t tell from the rest of this gushing review, I’ll state it plainly here. This book was incredible and I truly hope you’ll pick it up.
*eARC received in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley*