Author: Wendy Tuxworth
You Asked For Perfect by Laura Silverman is a young adult novel that explores queerness, the pressures of high school, and family relationships.
Senior Ariel Stone is the perfect college applicant: first chair violin, dedicated community volunteer, and expected valedictorian. He works hard – really hard – to make his life look effortless. A failed Calculus quiz is not part of that plan. Not when he’s number one. Not when his peers can smell weakness like a freshman’s body spray.
Figuring a few all-nighters will preserve his class rank, Ariel throws himself into studying. His friends will understand if he skips a few plans, and he can sleep when he graduates. Except Ariel’s grade continues to slide. Reluctantly, he gets a tutor. Amir and Ariel have never gotten along, but Amir excels in Calculus, and Ariel is out of options.
Ariel may not like Calc, but he might like Amir. Except adding a new relationship to his long list of commitments may just push him past his limit.
Content warnings: dangerous driving leading to a near-accident, graphic depictions of anxiety, hospitalisation, mentions of blood, playing violin as a form of self-injury
Laura Silverman really understands how stressful school – particularly high school – is. You Asked for Perfect follows Ariel, a high school valedictorian who is desperate to be accepted to Harvard. He pushes himself to the limit, obsessing about grades, being first chair violin in the school choir, volunteering, going to synagogue, staying in shape, playing in his friend Sook’s band – oh, and also spending time with his family. It really took me back to when I was in high school, because I too pushed myself to the limit to ensure that I could go to a good university.
It also encapsulated the way that schools push students to achieve better and better grades, without thinking about how this might affect their mental health. (And as well how some teachers prioritise their subject, and pile on the homework, not thinking that students have 5 other subjects to deal with!) Spoiler begins: One of the elements that really resonated with me is that near the end of the book, Ariel’s younger sister is hospitalised because she has a physical reaction from all of her stress. Stress and anxiety are affecting kids at younger and younger ages nowadays, and I could really relate to that. Spoiler ends.
While You Asked for Perfect does have romantic elements, I do not think that it at all pushes the idea that romance cures mental illness. Instead, I felt there was more of an emphasis on the importance of loved ones in general, and how Ariel is actually surrounded by a great support network, if only he would realise it. Again, this really resonated with me, because like Ariel, in high school I felt like I was completely alone in my stress and pursuit of perfection (which inevitably failed).
“I’m sorry.” I tug my backpack strap. “I’m sorry about the other day. I was a jerk. This school pressure, it’s been a lot for me. I know you’re not as affected by it…”
“Ariel. What? I’m as affected as you.”
“Of course, I am! I’m a person, Ariel.” She shakes her head.
This book is really immersive, to the point where I was getting really anxious for Ariel. I had to put it down for a little while because it was getting a bit much. This obviously shows what a great job Laura Silverman did in her depiction of stress and anxiety, but I thought it would be best to warn about that!
I also thought that the other diverse elements of the book were done wonderfully. Ariel is Jewish and bisexual, his love interest Amir is Arabian and Muslim, and his friend Sook is sapphic.
All in all, I thought this was a brilliant book. I must go back and read Laura Silverman’s first novel, Girl Out of Water.