The Ampersand Prize has launched the writing careers of some of the best YA writers in Australia and New Zealand. The winning books are always amazing stories that are fresh and exciting. The latest winner of the Ampersand Prize is no exception. Tim Te Maro and the Subterranean Heartsick Blues by Auckland teacher and author, H.S. Valley, is one of the coolest YA books you’ll read this year.
Tim Te Maro and Elliott Parker are classmates at Fox Glacier High School for the Magically Adept. They’ve never gotten along, but when they’re both dumped the day before the big egg-baby assignment, they team up to get back at their exes. They can’t stand each other but now they’re thrown together 24/7 to raise an egg-baby together. They make a deal to stick it out until the end of the assignment. Tim isn’t certain of his sexuality, and his experimentation was partly to blame for his breakup with his ex-girlfriend. Elliot is comfortable in his sexuality and he’s only too happy to help Tim figure out what he likes. As Tim and Elliott hook up, with no strings attached, Tim tries to figure out how he feels about Elliott. The deadline for the assignment looms, but how can things just go back to how they were before when Tim has feelings for Elliott?
I love everything about this book! It’s a cute, queer love story, set in a magical boarding school hidden under Fox Glacier. There’s plenty of sexual tension, great dialogue, humour, a hint of magic, and authentic characters who you get to know intimately. It’s a book that makes you want to shout at the characters, especially when Tim clearly can’t see what is right in front of him.
I love these characters! H.S.Valley has created characters who feel very real and relatable. They have insecurities and struggle with their feelings, and Tim in particular overthinks everything. I immediately liked Tim’s voice. He’s bitter from his breakup and hasn’t forgiven his dad for leaving suddenly three years ago. He vehemently dislikes Elliott, because of how he acts and the people he hangs out with. He can’t possibly imagine spending every minute with Elliott for the assignment. The more that he gets to know Elliott though, the more he realises that Elliott isn’t the self-righteous dick that he thought he was. Elliott is willing to help Tim explore his sexuality, at a pace that Tim is comfortable with and without messy feelings getting in the way. Tim also sees how caring and gentle Elliott can be, with their egg-baby. I love the dialogue between Tim and Elliott and the sexual tension between them. Like any teenage couple, they get to the stage where they can’t keep their hands off each other. The only problem is trying to keep their relationship secret from their friends and family. Tim realises that he likes guys, especially Elliott, but he’s not ready for his friends to find out. It is cute watching their relationship develop, but you worry that things might fall apart.
I really enjoyed the magic school aspect of the story, but this often felt like just the setting for Tim and Elliott’s relationship. Their magic and magical education came in to parts of the story but I wanted to see more of this. Having said that, the fact that their magic school is underneath Fox Glacier makes this story feel fresh.
I don’t feel ready to say goodbye to Tim and Elliott. I’ll be thinking about them for ages.