review: Here the Whole Time

title: Here the Whole Time
author: Vitor Martins
translator: Larissa Helena
date: Pulse; Nov. 2020
main character: Felipe
YA Gay romance
review based upon an advanced copy

Just as school vacation is begins, Felipe’s mom drops the news that they’re going to have a house guest for the next two weeks. Caio (pronunciation), the object of Felipe’s affection, is going to stay with him and his mom while Caio’s parents are out of town. And, they’re going to have to share Felipe’s small bedroom. This sounds like a pretty interesting set up except that bullies at school have taken away all of Felipe’s self-confidence leaving our overweight, gay, anxiety driven hero unable to find himself lovable by anyone other than his mother.

Vitor Martins, the author of Here the Whole Time, is a Brazilian living in Sāo Paulo. In addition to working as a writer, he’s also a book marketer and illustrator. Here the Whole Time is a story that’s very personal to Martins, written from his own lived experiences.

I found this to be one of the more challenging books for me to review for two reasons: first because the book I read was an advanced copy and second because it was a translation. I have several reviews of 2020 advance copies coming because those are the unreviewed works I have on hand, along with a few from 2021. They things I question may have changed in the final edition.

My Portuguese is so limited (I can read ‘hello’, ‘how are you’, ‘water’ and ‘thank-you’) that I cannot read the original work this translation is based upon, I can only discuss the translation. I point that out because one of the quibbles I have about the book is the overwhelming presence of U.S. pop culture. Was this in the original text, or provided by the translator for a U.S. audience? It seems to pandering. Do teens in Brazil actually play U.S. board games and idolize U.S. musicians over their own? Maybe; maybe not. It distracted me and made me want to know more about those facets of Brazilian culture.

This book is packaged as a romance novel, and it is, but not in the traditional boy meets boy sort of way. It’s a given that Caio and Felipe are in like. Although it’s off to a slow start (these guys are really ‘slow’ when it comes to romance) but, there’s no tension in their relationship. This allows for attention to remain on Felipe’s internal conflct that is propelling the story; his need for self-love. While this is something many of us struggle with, Martins makes Felipe’s conflict real and personal when he names it.

“I am fat.
I’m not “chubby” or “husky” or “big boned.” I’m heavy, I take up space and people look at me funny on the street.” (p. 1)

Felipe is a bit ahead of most because he can intellectually accept himself. While authors often create teen characters who have this capacity, Martins displays in the story how Felipe reached this level and  because of this he reads like a real teen. Martins incorporates Felipe’s therapy sessions into the story.

And then, Felipe’s growth is revealed to the reader (and the worth of therapy is validated) when he opens up and makes such a grand personal revelation to Caio. This is something that could only happen in this moment.

“Did therapy help you with being, you know…gay?” Caio asks in a whisper?

I think about it for a moment and realize that, in the last few months, my being gay has rarely ever come up in my sessions with Olivia. I never have issues talking about it. I’ve always known I am gay, that I can’t change, and I don’t want to. My mom accepts me, I accept myself, and that’s the end of it. In our sessions, I mostly talk about my shyness, my weight, and how people see me. Being gay is always a smaller detail compared to my truckload of crises.

“It helped me a little with being gay at the beginning. But now it helps me with a bunch of other stuff. Shyness. Anxiety. That kind of stuff,” I answer quickly opening up to Caio more than I’d like to.” (p.81-82)

Even with this story, being gay is smaller detail compared to Felipe’s truckload of crises. We could say it doesn’t make being gay an issue, but it’s such a part of Felipe’s identity that it has to be part of the story. Felipe already knows he has to accept his entire self so that he can love his entire self. This story might help some of the rest of us get there.