Colton’s Terrible Wonderful Year
by Vincent Traughber Meis
Genre: Young Adult Fiction / LGBTQ
Print Length: 239 pages
Reviewed by Timothy Thomas
A heartfelt coming-of-age story that honestly navigates conversations of race, love, sexuality, family, and friendship
The experiences we have in our teenage years leave a definitive mark on the rest of our lives. Changing bodies, social contexts, and novel situations (plus many other factors specific to each person) makes those few years difficult, yet memorable.
Author Vincent Traughber Meis somehow manages to synthesize the joys, frustrations, passions, uncertainty, and helpless awkwardness that comes with that stage in our lives with a sympathetic frankness that most readers will be able to relate to.
The day Colton’s life begins to change is the day his parents pick him up from the police station. See, Colton is a half-Black teenager living in San Francisco, which had never really been an issue until now. He and his two best friends, Fer (a light-skinned Mexican kid) and Josh (a white, blonde-haired kid) got picked up at Target after shoplifting, a ploy led by Josh but which Colton ultimately took the blame for.
Following a sit-down conversation with his two dads, August (called Dad) and Ruben (called Papi), that was subverted by talk of maybe finally being able to meet his mother, Joy, whom he’d never met, Colton is surprised to find Dad suggesting a family vacation to Thailand.
Before he knows it, they’re across the world on vacation, where he meets Olivia, a dark-skinned British girl whose family is on vacation as well. He falls for her, and they stay in touch even after the two families separate and return to their respective homes. No one knows how much life is about to change. With a global pandemic looming in the near future and nationwide demonstrations about race provoked by the unjust killing of Black people, 2020 promises highs and lows for Colton that are compounded by questions regarding his own racial heritage and familial conflicts arising in tandem.
Colton’s Terrible Wonderful Year handles the fragility and frustration of adolescence with bold tactfulness. Told from Colton’s perspective, the story doesn’t shy away from the challenges of transitioning into adulthood and defining oneself. The chaos of navigating this period in one’s life is illustrated by Colton’s thoughts as his experiences force him to confront aspects of life that he has not yet had to. Going from innocent ignorance to understanding is no easy task, and this book encapsulates that struggle very well.
Additionally, Vincent Traughber Meis manages to construct a realistic portrait of a family dynamic, void of any cartoonish portrayals of people. As the son of two dads, Colton’s family is not what some may consider “the norm,” but for Meis, this does not change the sense of love and care that is written into the family’s interactions. Though Colton may become frustrated and angry with his parents at times (what kid hasn’t), the trust that has been developed through his parents’ sympathetic approach to raising their child is not only grounded, but worth taking note of for our own lives.
Colton’s Terrible Wonderful Year takes the reader through the ups and downs of being a teenager, with all the additional hardships that 2020 brought on top. It thoroughly illustrates the power of family love and support to overcome life’s obstacles and to help find oneself in the midst of it all. In short, it is well worth the read.
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