If I Told You So
"If I Told You So" by Timothy Woodward is a novel with moderate potential to entertain. It’s a fairly tame story about a young teen coming out of the closet and trying to pursue a relationship with the boy he likes during a summer of self-discovery. In recent years, books like this one have become more common, but "If I Told You So" does have several refreshingly different aspects that set it apart from your usual teen coming-out story. First of all, the book has barely any sexual-orientation tension in it. When our protagonist, Sean, acknowledges that he’s gay everyone takes it very well and accepts him for who he is. It’s a nice change from the hoard of homophobes that would usually lash out at such a character.
Secondly, Sean, like many a literary teen before him, spends most of the book pursuing the older boy he likes, but he also realizes that this boy might not be his perfect soul mate. In most coming-out stories, the protagonist finds a love interest and they latch on to each other and live happily ever after forever. This, too, is a welcome departure that helps the novel appeal to more modern (read: integrated) tastes.
However, the book does have its flaws. They pop up suddenly and unsettlingly and are mostly just played for laughs with no follow-up consequences. There’s a scene where Sean and his friends make unfortunate rape jokes. There’s a point where Sean disavows bisexuals everywhere when says he used to have crushes on boys and girls "before [he] realized that you have to choose." He has a boss who blatantly sexually harasses her employees and a best friend who actively promotes gay stereotypes and later tries to force Sean out of the closet. And finally, perhaps worst of all, at the end of the book Sean offers a questionable pearl of wisdom, suggesting that "if there’s one thing I’ve learned this summer, coming out is always easier...than you imagine." Because clearly there are no individual who in this day come out and are then horribly harassed, hurt, or even killed.
The main problem that "If I Told You So" faces is that it’s not just a nice little story for teens. It’s a guidebook. This is the sort of novel gay teens will seek out and read to better understand themselves and what it means to be gay. As such, it’s held to a higher standard, which is why the book’s callous flaws are damning. Yes, we live in a world where coming out of the closet is no longer necessarily a big deal, but that doesn’t mean that authors should generalize the experience as universally safe; moreover, the world does not easily categorize itself into simply straight or gay.
"If I Told You So"
by Timothy Woodward