Overall Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“Those words are a reminder that even if we try to erase what we don’t want to see, there will always be something to remind us that fear and prejudice still exist.”
I finished reading this book with so many thoughts and feelings running through my head! I’m so thrilled that this book is out in the wild, a YA novel which is filled not only with powerful messages and important information, but which also celebrates love in all its forms. This story covers the topic of HIV as well as relationships and self-acceptance in such a perfectly real way that I was left completely speechless. I’m so so happy to be sharing my review of this book, one that I already can’t wait to read again!
Ian has just been diagnosed with HIV.
Victor, to his great relief, has tested negative.
Henrique has been living with HIV for the past three years.
When Victor finds himself getting tested for HIV for the first time, he can’t help but question his entire relationship with Henrique, the guy he has-had-been dating. See, Henrique didn’t disclose his positive HIV status to Victor until after they had sex, and even though Henrique insisted on using every possible precaution, Victor is livid.
That’s when Victor meets Ian, a guy who’s also getting tested for HIV. But Ian’s test comes back positive, and his world is about to change forever. Though Victor is loath to think about Henrique, he offers to put the two of them in touch, hoping that perhaps Henrique can help Ian navigate his new life. In the process, the lives of Ian, Victor, and Henrique will become intertwined in a story of friendship, love, and stigma-a story about hitting what you think is rock bottom, but finding the courage and support to keep moving forward.
Set in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this utterly engrossing debut by Brazilian author Lucas Rocha calls back to Alex Sanchez’s Rainbow Boys series, bringing attention to how far we’ve come with HIV, while shining a harsh light on just how far we have yet to go.
The start of this story was simply magical, but it’s in no way, shape or form a happy beginning. Ian’s got HIV. There’s no denying those test results. Just the news of it tugs at your heart. It’s completely engrossing and it feels so incredibly real, something that the author has so perfectly put together using carefully chosen words. The effect it had on me was astounding, and the author already had me hooked on this story, as well as on Ian’s life from this point onwards. However, it isn’t just Ian we meet that we instantly fall in love with. We’re soon introduced to Victor, another truly unforgettable and well developed character that receives the opposite test result, to his relief. When these two characters meet, their connection goes further and deeper than two strangers getting the same test. Victor instantly becomes Ian’s crutch as the emotion consumes him. Little did they know that staying in touch would be the best thing for the both of them.
Feeling like you know characters well so early on in a book is a rare treat, and this was surprisingly clear even though we add a third character to the mix, Henrique. Three main characters – three gay young men with such similar lives – are connected in the most fascinating way, and I was confident their journey would be so important, so gripping and so very raw. When Henrique is first mentioned, I didn’t know what to think of him; withholding the fact he was HIV+ enrages Victor – how dare he when they slept together?! However, the more we get to know him, the more genuine he seemed. As with all these three characters and even the minor characters along the way, I loved learning more about their lives. It’s clear the author has fully embraced his talent, developing characters flawlessly and dealing with the topic of HIV in a way that affects three people in very different ways with such clarity. This was so eye-opening for me, and explores things in a way that is not only informative for a reader, but which will also make them much more aware.
“My impression of this woman is that its impossible to like her right away. She has a sour taste about her, as if it’s her job to give bad news on a daily basis and she isn’t exactly comfortable with it.”
What I really liked about this author’s work was his ability to convey thoughts, feelings and emotions so incredibly well. No matter which character’s perspective we’re focused on in any one chapter, we can feel everything so deeply. I became so immersed in the conversations between characters, especially in the scenes where Ian and Henrique meet for the first time and discuss what it’s like living with HIV. Henrique puts Ian at ease with his reassuring words, which also put me at ease too. I felt like I’d learnt so much about the virus just from reading the dialogue, which, might I add, has been written to perfection – like real-life conversations were playing out before my very eyes. The more time went on and the more I learnt about the backgrounds of these characters, the more I became attached to these guys. It’s impossible not to! The story continues to be easy to read and digest, and was already unlike anything I’ve ever read in my life. So powerful and so informative.
The introduction of Ian’s best friend, Gabriel, was so brilliant, and it seemed I loved meeting each new character just as much as I loved the previous! Gabriel is the friend everyone needs; so supportive and understanding, the best listener and giver of advice. Ian and Gabriel’s friendship has been written with so much love and attention to detail, and it’s so clear how much they mean to each other. Ian’s road to self-acceptance and self-love was becoming easier with so many wonderful people by his side, and Gabriel only continued to restore my faith in humanity. What started off as a sad and uncertain road for Ian quickly became a journey of hope and acceptance, but one that would take immense courage and bravery. There was no doubt in my mind that Ian would conquer his diagnosis and come out the other side so much stronger. The beginning of the book had already gone beyond all my expectations, and I knew the rest of the book would follow suit.
Each of the three main characters have their own “Voice of Reason” in the form of a best friend. I’ve already mentioned Ian’s friend, Gabriel, but Victor has Sandra and Henrique has Eric. All of these additional characters play a crucial role in the development of our main characters, each with such fantastic personalities that really stick in your mind. The separate conversations they all have about life and love should be heard by everyone having doubts. I often wondered what it’d be like having this bunch of characters in the same room together! The conversations were such a big part of this book for me, and I not only enjoyed each one and the subtle humour at times, but I also enjoyed how their words made me feel. Something difficult to explain, but something you’re sure to understand if you read the book! The author’s words continued to fill me with joy and intrigue well into the middle of the book, and I continued to feel as though I was learning some crucial life lessons along the way. Something unexpected, but certainly welcomed.
Henrique’s attempts to win back Victor don’t prove to be successful, and it seemed as if he’d never come to his senses. We learn exactly why their relationship was so perfect; how easy it was to have a conversation without those awkward silences, how they got on like a house on fire and how they could tell each other about their pasts and experiences without judgement. Such a rare thing that should be cherished. The reader also joins Ian as he attends his first appointment with Dr Marcela Rodrigues. I found this meeting to be so interesting as each intricate detail of HIV is visited, educating us just as much as Ian. Marcela was yet another perfect character to add to the story, another person Ian could count on and someone whose words were so soothing and reassuring that I felt Ian was in the right hands. I hoped the side effects of his medication wouldn’t cause him to lose hope or his motivation.
“I smile, and for the first time since HIV showed up in my life, I feel a little more optimistic about the future.”
Ian begins to take his medication – the first time being before he heads for a good night out at a drag show. The side effects seem to be mild at this point, but it was such a nail-biting time for me. I didn’t know what to expect! The scenes of the night out were written brilliantly; the description is so vibrant and easy to visualise, and it was also an exciting time as all three main characters meet in the same place. Would Victor and Henrique sort out their issues? The love between these two characters is so clear, but can Victor ever put Henrique’s HIV behind him? Would be ever be able to look towards a future with this guy? They have an intense argument which was saddening to read and they really are hurtful towards each other with their words, but even then I could still sense the love they had for one another. Another brilliantly written scene from this author which made me wonder if there was anything he couldn’t write! Each character had their internal battles and it was so moving seeing them develop and watching them slowly overcome their fears.
There’s more emotion, stress and heartache as time goes on, something that is so effortlessly transferred to the reader for the ultimate experience. Nothing completes a story about love than an old ex returning, and that’s exactly what Henrique experiences. His first love, Carlos, appears out of the blue after leaving for New Zealand years ago, just at the time where he’s trying to understand and compile his feelings about Victor and moving on from such a complicated relationship, not to mention everything that comes with living with HIV. Would Carlos’ sudden unexpected appearance bring back all those feelings? Is he ready to leave everything behind to start again with his ex? He soon realises exactly what he needs from his life, and I really did applaud his decision. The atmosphere in the book here felt pretty tense, and I couldn’t wait to see what the ending of the story would bring. It felt Ian, Victor and Henrique still had issues to iron out before they could truly accept and appreciate themselves (and each other) for who they they truly were.
I couldn’t help but smile to myself as Ian finds himself talking to a very interesting guy, Gustavo. It was about time this character had a bit of good news in his life, and I only hoped something positive would develop between these two! As soon as this guy hands over his number, I instantly thought of Victor and Henrique’s situation. Ian would have to mention his recent HIV diagnosis – would Gustavo stick by him or run a mile in fear? Meanwhile, Henrique suffers some of the worst cyberbullying imaginable, something that made me feel angry just as much as it was upsetting to read. It’s hard to imagine how such vile actions can make the victim feel, but the author does a damn good job of putting these words into writing. The author continues to tackle so many issues that are common in the world today, which I really admired, and covered these issues in a way that so many people will be able to relate to. Such a brilliant talent!
One particular scene in the book really tugged at my heart and made my eyes tear up. As the bullying escalates, Henrique returns home to find disgusting words spray painted across the walls. The author had written this in a way that made my stomach drop, but in the same few paragraphs, made me feel intense warmth. Ian, Victor and Eric do their best to protect him, working together to get rid of the spray paint. It sounds such a simple scene as I write this, but the effect it had on me was so profound and possibly one of the most impactful scenes I’ve read in a long time. The author is so incredibly skilled in not only writing scenes of love and positivity, but also those deeply emotional scenes that make you want to go and give your loved ones a hug. So many events in this book seem to put so much into perspective and make you realise exactly what a person could be going through right now. It made me even more determined to help make the world a much better, kinder place to live in.
“But most of all, I feel a tightness in my chest – a good one – because I know I have people around who are willing to protect me.”
Seeing how much a character has grown from the beginning of a book to the end is always such a huge highlight for me. This book has probably been one of the very best! Ian, once scared and lonely after his HIV diagnosis, now feels surrounded by some of the most understanding and supportive people; individuals who don’t judge, who don’t even care that this virus is in his system. Victor’s views on HIV change as he learns more about what it means and how it’s managed, and Henrique learns to take a risk and let the right people in, no matter his experiences in the past. Every single character’s growth has been written and explored so well in a way that is completely enthralling and so relevant to society today. I was so keen to see how this story would end, and I really did hope that all of these brilliant, loveable characters find the happiness they deserve, whether that’s in their own skin or with the right person by their side.
I felt so empowered and was left smiling after reading the final couple of chapters – in this situation, revenge is sweet! Henrique’s friends come together for ‘Operation Rainbow’, and without giving anything away, let’s just say Carlos gets what he deserves. I loved how all these characters came together to be there for Henrique; he’d been through so much in his life that he wasn’t about to let some idiotic, selfish ex-boyfriend get in his way. Ian, Victor and Henrique managed to find each other at the most crucial point in their lives, and their stories have been told with so much meaning and love behind those words. I loved every single sentence of this book, from the first page to the last, and it will certainly be one of those stories that sticks in my head for a lifetime. Lucas; you have created a flawless, powerful and completely mesmerising novel, and I feel so honoured to have read your masterpiece! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Can anyone ever write a review that showcases just how magnificent, moving and truly unforgettable this book is?! Not only is this book the perfect YA novel highlighting just how important it is to talk about HIV and how to love yourself and others fiercely, regardless of who they are, but it’s also the perfect tool for younger readers to learn more about the topic of HIV. Why isn’t this book used in education already?! The author addresses so many different topics with such care and attention, highlights just how much prejudice is still so problematic, and also shows just how much further we need to go to educate about HIV. This combined with such perfect characters and storyline full of heart creates an amazing book that so many will enjoy. I’m 100% going to be reading this again!
A huge thank you to the author, Lucas Rocha, and David Fickling Books for my copy of this book to read and review! You can purchase your own copy of Where We Go From Here over on Amazon or on the David Fickling Books website. Make sure you’re following the author over on Twitter and Instagram for more updates!