Book review: It Looks Like This, by Rafi Mittlefehldt

mittlefehldt-it-looks-like-thisMittlefehldt, Rafi. It Looks Like This. Candlewick, 2016. HC. $16.99. ISBN 978-0763687199.

This tale of a teenage boy’s sexual awakening, ultimately thwarted by parental misguidance, is memorably seared into readers’ consciousness thanks to first-time novelist Mittlefehldt, in a stunning literary debut.

Mike, our narrator and a gifted artist, is a 15-year-old Wisconsinite now living in Virginia with his parents and younger sister. He makes friends at school gradually and contentedly until one day, new classmate Sean enters his life. They are drawn to each other subtly but undeniably, and their relationship grows deeper when they team up for a class project. Slowly and inexorably, they finally make overtures to each other and begin seeking out ways to see each other privately.

Both their fathers seem concerned about their sons’ new friendship: Mike’s church-going dad, who has already characterized his son to a relative as being “soft,” seems particularly alarmed. Things take a devastating turn when Sean and Mike are discovered together on New Year’s Eve. Mike’s parents immediately send him to a “camp” wherein he’ll supposedly be cured of his same-sex tendencies, but he escapes, only to face further trauma. At the novel’s conclusion, after some painful confrontations and familial shifts of power, both boys’ families face hard truths and move on with their new reality as best they can.

This book’s title is totally fitting, as Mike is amazingly sensitive to how things look in the world around him. His eloquent descriptions are riveting, from the most mundane of objects to the aesthetically breathtaking, not to mention full of every color imaginable. Mittlefehldt does a tremendous job in bringing his endearing, questioning and ultimately liberated young hero to vivid life on the page—-a remarkable freshman effort.

It Looks Like This is highly recommended for young adult collections of all sorts, and also to general readers who appreciate first-rate first-person narration. I hope we’ll all be hearing much more from Rafi Mittlefehldt.

Cathy Ritchie
Acquisitions/Selection Services
Dallas (TX) Public Library

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