A Taxonomy of Love by Rachael Allen
Published by Amulet Books: scheduled for Jan. 2018
Genre: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary
A Taxonomy of Love caught my attention right away! First, the title. I love it. The cover is adorable, and so apt. And the description of Spencer, our narrator, who has Tourette Syndrome (something I hadn’t seen in a book, and certainly not like this), and who is obsessed with the idea of classifications and taxonomies. I knew I would love it, and I did.
The moment Spencer meets Hope the summer before seventh grade, it’s . . . something at first sight. He knows she’s special, possibly even magical. The pair become fast friends, climbing trees and planning world travels. After years of being outshone by his older brother and teased because of his Tourette syndrome, Spencer finally feels like he belongs. But as Hope and Spencer get older and life gets messier, the clear label of “friend” gets messier, too.
Through sibling feuds and family tragedies, new relationships and broken hearts, the two grow together and apart, and Spencer, an aspiring scientist, tries to map it all out using his trusty system of taxonomy. He wants to identify and classify their relationship, but in the end, he finds that life doesn’t always fit into easy-to-manage boxes, and it’s this messy complexity that makes life so rich and beautiful.
The writing here pulls off something I think can be super difficult, which is that through the one book the kids age quite a bit. At the start, Spencer and Hope are just thirteen. Their crushes are very indicative of children that age. By the end, they’re nineteen! It’s a huge leap. The story takes place in separate parts for each age, and it does mean we miss a lot. For instance, we leave one year with Spencer and Hope not having spoken for a while, and when the next part starts, they’re friends again. This can be SO incredibly hard to pull off, and it is done so well here. The kids genuinely feel like they age without becoming whole new people, and it doesn’t feel rushed.
There’s also just a lot here that’s special. Most of our chapters are from Spencer’s point of view, first person present-tense narration. We also get some instant message (is this antiquated phraseology? Am I showing my age?) conversation between Hope and her sister, Janie. As well as letters from Hope to Janie. Interspersed throughout are little taxonomies, written out by Spencer, and they are so fun.
This is so special to me, because the characters and my opinions of them changed quite a bit!
First, we have Spencer. He is just such a wonderful kid. We watch him go through so much. Not only his interest in girls starting to peak, but his life with Tourette Syndrome, his relationship with his brother (always perceived as perfect), the abandonment of his mother, his relationship with his father and stepdad. There is A LOT here, and I rooted for him the entire time. He’s also just such a good guy. Given his relationship with Hope, I was genuinely amazed and thrilled that the phrase “friend zone” was never thrown around.
Hope goes through her own arc, and thank fuck, right? Because how often do we see these stories from boys points of view where they chase their manic pixie dream girl around and we have no idea about what’s even going on with her. Hope is a person. She’s flawed, she deals with her own grief, and she’s not always entirely likable. I think it’s perfect, necessary that she’s like this. Her grief is so realistic to me, and I definitely felt for her even when I didn’t really like her.
The side characters are fun. Spencer eventually has some great friends. His brother and father also both go through incredible transitions.
As I mentioned earlier, I’d never read a story about someone with TS! And definitely, absolutely not like this. I hadn’t seen one as the main protagonist. And when I have seen them, they’re often in movies to be laughed at (think Duece Bigalow: Male Gigalo, if you’re old enough). This is an honest depiction of a kid trying to have a normal life with tics, and it’s so great.
Spencer also has an interracial relationship at one point, and they’re not shy to talk about the issues. They live in Georgia, and he talks a lot about being both proud and embarrassed of where he’s from. His girlfriend isn’t cast in a play because the male lead is white and they don’t want them to kiss on stage. They discuss the removal of the Confederate flag from the school, and how the kids are no longer allowed to wear it, and we get to see some interesting growth from Spencer’s brother and dad over it. The discussion about race playing a decent size while not being what the story is about is a huge deal to me.
Is that this is a fun, easy read that will most definitely tug at your heartstrings!