Welcome to the second article in our 2020 Pride Month Series! Each day in the month of June, we will be highlighting a different member of the LGBTQ+ community who we think is a great example of representation and dynamic characterization. We will focus on fictional characters, celebrities, and activists alike — the positive voices within the LGBTQ+ community and in mainstream media.
“For those who’ve discovered happiness can be hard.”
Five years ago, Adam Silvera introduced the world to Aaron Soto in his debut novel More Happy Than Not (MHTN), and five years later, he’s still a memorable character. Though MHTN is a standout novel for many reasons, this article will focus on Aaron and why his story is a notable addition to the LGBTQ+ landscape.
When we meet Aaron, he has a girlfriend – Genevieve – and there’s no major indicator that he’s gay or that he suspects he might be (this sets up a devastating, fantastic twist). His relationship with Genevieve is solid, but it’s clear her feelings for Aaron are more romantic and distinct than Aaron’s are for her. At first, this isn’t as significant, but eventually it helps Aaron understand his sexuality. The first shift in his relationship with Genevieve comes when he befriends Thomas. The two become fast friends, and Genevieve (and the rest of Aaron’s crew) take notice, but they don’t pay much mind to it just yet. Any romantic love Aaron might have held for Genevieve begins to dissipate the more time he spends with Thomas and questions who he really likes. While Aaron and Genevieve remain together until about the halfway point, they both realize they can’t find the same happiness with each other they shared before Thomas.
What stands out the most for me about Aaron’s feelings towards Thomas is how they aren’t necessarily romantic until later on. Thomas, like Genevieve, is a safe harbor for Aaron. With Thomas, Aaron doesn’t have to worry about being judged in the way he would be around his other friends. As their friendship deepens, it opens Aaron up to share with Thomas he’s gay. This initial coming out is the least stressful for Aaron. Thomas reacts as though Aaron just told him the sun shines during the daytime. Aaron is relieved the world hasn’t exploded, but he is surprised at Thomas’ response. Thomas tells him, “I care about you but I don’t care about that. I mean, I do care but I don’t care in that way you think I care.” He’s there to support Aaron and make him feel comfortable, even offering up “dude-liker” in place of “gay” so that Aaron can wrap his head around the idea more easily and the implications it carries regarding his other friends.
Despite Thomas’ attitude towards Aaron’s news, Aaron still isn’t easily soothed. He grew up around friends who won’t — and don’t — accept Aaron (and is made painfully known in a scene that feels like someone is standing on your chest. Thanks, Adam). In yesterday’s spotlight I mentioned a coming out story that was light and joyous. Aaron’s is the other side of the coin. His internal struggle imbues a certain empathy that hits hard and deep. His fear and anxiety about coming out to his friends (“friends” more like) are the reality of many LGBTQ+ members who can’t rely on the support of those who are supposed to be closest to them. Silvera incorporates Aaron’s feelings in a visceral way, one that says, “I see you.”
NOTE: The next paragraph will have a MAJOR spoiler and mention violence motivated by homophobia.
The most heartbreaking part of Aaron’s story is when he decides to turn to the Leteo Insitute for a memory-altering procedure that will allow him to forget he’s gay. But before he can go through the procedure, his (super fake and unsupportive) friends corner him and aggressively question him about his break-up with Genevieve, which escalates to physical violence. Eventually Aaron is thrown through a door, hitting the ground (and his head) hard, and we learn that Aaron already underwent the Leteo procedure to forget he was gay. In a chapter that will have your jaw on the floor, Silvera reminds us that even the memories you hoped you left behind will find their way back.
For me, and I’m sure for many others, the key to great representation is finding a book(s) – for the sake of this article – written by an Own Voices author, or an author who’s part of the community they’re writing about. Silvera being one of those authors helps make Aaron’s story all the more powerful. Representation is good. Positive, authentic representation is even better, and that’s what Silvera brings with Aaron. Like Silvera, Aaron is born and raised in the Bronx, he’s Puerto Rican, and he’s gay. Silvera drawing from his own life creates a character more readers can see themselves in, whether it’s someone who can revel in the palpable Bronx atmosphere Silvera brings to the page or Aaron coming to terms with his sexuality. Silvera is a prime example of the type of representation necessary and the authors whose stories everyone should be reading.
Aaron’s story is a difficult one to read and experience through him, but it’s exceptionally important. Every major event in Aaron’s story takes him on a painful journey to finding his identity, the one that helps him live more honestly and, maybe, find some semblance of happiness (or at the very least, contentment). Aaron teaches us that nothing and no one (including yourself) can erase who you are, not even memory altering procedures. Through Aaron, Silvera reminds us that self-discovery and finding happiness is no simple endeavor, nor should it be. One of my favorite passages from the book encompasses this idea perfectly:
“Sometimes pain is so unmanageable that the idea of spending another day with it seems impossible. Other times, pain acts as a compass to help you get through the messier tunnels of growing up. But the pain can only help you find happiness if you can remember it.”