NamesI had the pleasure of reading Names Can Never Hurt Me, the latest from Wade Kelly, in advance of its publication. That gives me the privilege to be one of the first to shout its praises.

This is a wonderful book about an important topic not only for college kids and college grads today but also for people in general. In this era where everyone is so quick to judge and apply labels to people, this novel takes a deep dive at the damage those labels can cause.

Nick is a pretty boy, by his own admission, and a recent college grad still living at home. He barely scrapes by, parties a lot with his college friends, sleeps with girls as often as possible. Yet, he’s got an amazing internal dialogue where he realizes that perhaps there should be more to him than that. He also knows that he has an attraction to guys, at least some guys … mostly those who are as gorgeous as he is.

Nick’s world is challenged as he gets to know R.C., a scraggily, bearish guy who comes into the restaurant Nick works at. R.C. is 180 degrees different than Nick’s regular group of friends. Nick can’t figure out why he’s interested in the guy, but over time they develop a cautious friendship that pushes both of them outside their comfort zones.

I love how Kelly wrote Nick. He evolves so much over the course of the book from shallow guy to an adult whose ready to settle into the world. The back and forth discussions he has with himself as he tries to sort out what it means to have a friend like R.C., what his friends will think and how it will define him. And there’s the bigger question about what it could mean to be truly attracted to R.C. People have discussions like this all the time with themselves and Kelly captures it perfectly.

I have to give shout out to a couple pieces of dialgoue that I loved too. These come from Nick’s friend, and sometimes hookup, Corey:

“… You can’t change what you are on the inside. That mask you wear only works on those who can’t see it. Take it off, Nicky.”

and then later in the same scene

“Sugar, a little birdie told me you needed a reminder of what ti’s like to fly. All that extra baggage you wear will only bring you down. Let it go, Nicky. Let it go.”

The book  reminded me a bit of Openly Straight from Bill Konigsberg. He explored labels in that book and Kelly keeps that same sort of dialogue going in this one (and to caution, where Openly Straight is YA, Names is New Adult and does feature some sex). Completely different in their concepts and plots, but similarly excellent messages.

This is my first Wade Kelly book, but I will be reading more. I’ve already got her backlist on my bookshelf ready to go.

Since Wade’s a good friend, Will and I invited her to stop by the blog this coming Saturday (August 16) to talk about Names Can Never Hurt Me and other fun stuff. Hope you’ll stop by as part of your weekend plans!