Steven Salvatore is a queer (gay and genderqueer, using he/him and they/them pronouns — please default to they/them) writer who lives in New York with their husband. Steven has worked in higher education since 2011, teaching composition courses across curriculums. When not writing or teaching, you can find Steven rewatching any and all Star Wars media or listening to Mariah Carey’s extensive and impeccable catalog. Their debut CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY is forthcoming (March 9th, 2021), and AND THEY LIVED… will be their follow-up (March 1st, 2022) from Bloomsbury YA.
An empowering and emotional debut about a genderqueer teen who finds the courage to stand up and speak out for equality when they are discriminated against by their high school administration.
Carey Parker dreams of being a diva, and bringing the house down with song. They can hit every note of all the top pop and Broadway hits. But despite their talent, emotional scars from an incident with a homophobic classmate and their grandmother’s spiraling dementia make it harder and harder for Carey to find their voice.
Then Carey meets Cris, a singer/guitarist who makes Carey feel seen for the first time in their life. With the rush of a promising new romantic relationship, Carey finds the confidence to audition for the role of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, in the school musical, setting off a chain reaction of prejudice by Carey’s tormentor and others in the school. It’s up to Carey, Cris, and their friends to defend their rights–and they refuse to be silenced.
Told in alternating chapters with identifying pronouns, debut author Steven Salvatore’s Can’t Take That Away conducts a powerful, uplifting anthem, a swoony romance, and an affirmation of self-identity that will ignite the activist in all of us.
Thoughts and Themes: It took me a while to get into this book but once I sat down with it, it was hard to put down. There was so much to love about this book, from the characters, to the plot, and more. I had to wait to write this review because there is so much that I want to discuss for this book and if I wrote it once I finished it, it would be more rambling than anything productive.
I really enjoyed how this book focuses o the power that students have to create change and how much impact their voice has. I really like how this is about the students but we also get the adults stepping in to assist the student’s with their movement. I thought it was important to see the difference in how the student’s voices were received and how that changed when the press was involved.
I really enjoyed the setting of this book along with the fact that these were high school students. I liked the message that the book sent across about having a voice and using that voice for what you believe in. I really liked that at no point in the story do these students give in to the pressures trying to silence them.
Characters: In this book you get introduced to several characters through their interactions with Carey, and I loved each one of the supportive characters. You get to meet a few supportive people in Carey’s life, such as her mom and grandma, Cris- the love interest, Mr. Kelly- the theatre teacher, Zoey- his best friend, Phobe- new friend from the show, Blanca- friend who helps with protests and Monroe- Zoey’s sister and Carey’s friend. You also get to meet some of the people who make life difficult for Carey, Mr. Jackson- a teacher at school who is homophobic, and transphobic, and Max- who is a bully.
I really loved the relationship that Carey has with their grandmother and it was so hard to read as that relationship shifted and changed. I love how Carey gets a lot of strength from his grandma and how she has always been supportive of who they are. I love that this really shows how someone’s age doesn’t really dictate how they will respond to the LGBTQ+ community. It reminded me how often times we dismiss homophobia and transphobia with the idea of people being older and so they won’t learn but this shows how we don’t have to dismiss this because of that.
I really love how Carey’s mom steps up and tries to help her child as much as she can. I liked how she was there for him no matter what and offered her support even if she didn’t always understand them.
The relationship between Cris and Carey is instant love from the moment that they meet and sometimes this is something that I don’t really like. In this case though, I actually enjoyed their relationship because its not like it didn’t have any obstacles they had to get through.
Writing Style: This book is told in first person through the perspective of Carey. Each chapter heading has the pronouns that Carey is using at that time which is something that I really enjoyed. I thought it was great to have this be a part of the story along with including which bracelet Carey was using in that section of the book. I liked that we got to see how seamless it is for Carey’s friends to switch pronouns for them as it is needed.