What if true love was a curse in a bad contract that forced you to live with the most dangerous mafia family in New York? That is the premise behind off-the-wall Rapunzel retelling The Uncrossing by Lambda Literary Fellow Melissa Eastlake — and I loved it.
I spend a lot of time championing adult literary fiction, but young adult fiction (YA) is a rich and exciting genre in its own right. As a side effect of drafting two young adult novels over the past year and half, I’ve found myself reading a lot more YA, especially fairy-tale retellings. There are phenomenal books in this genre, especially for readers looking for more diversity, and The Uncrossing joins books like We Are the Ants by Shaun Hutchinson that handle both mental illness and the real struggles of gay teens with sensitivity, insight, and a light magical touch.
Jeremy Kovrov is the Rapunzel in this alt-New York shaped by the turf wars of magic-wielding mafia. His adoptive brothers Sergei and Alexei love him and have done their best to raise him under the circumstances, but nothing can help the fact that Jeremy is trapped with the Kovrovs until true love’s first kiss releases him.
The problem? True love is “fairy-tale logic” — an impossible clause that closes off every other possible means of escape. And it’s getting in the way of Jeremy’s real romance with Luke Melnyk, a local Ukrainian-Creole twin who has the unique power to “uncross” curses. Can Luke untangle this particularly nasty curse? And does Jeremy really want him to play the role of rescuing prince?
In my last blog post, “Disgust and Tenderness in Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You,” I talked about how the narrator’s father cruelly associates foulness and disgust with his own son through pointed body language. The Uncrossing could be read as a healing antidote to this sort of treatment. Jeremy and Luke’s families are not perfect — racism and homophobia rear their ugly heads at certain moments in the plot — but they fiercely love their boys and are rooting for them to find a way around this curse. In fact, without both families’ involvement, they wouldn’t have a chance.
As an adoptive parent, I really appreciated that this novel treats Jeremy’s adoptive brothers as his real, loving family without in the end feeling the need to rediscover his lost birth family. At the same time, the novel respects the importance of Jeremy’s birth family in shaping who he is (hint: it has a lot to do with his magical abilities!). This is different from most Rapunzel retellings, and I was more grateful than I can say.
Thank you to Entangled Teen and the Chapter by Chapter blog tour for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for honest feedback.