A Taxonomy of Love – Rachael Allen – Amulet Books – Published 9 January 2018
The moment Spencer meets Hope the summer before seventh grade, it’s . . . something at first sight. He knows she’s special, possibly even magical. The pair become fast friends, climbing trees and planning world travels. After years of being outshone by his older brother and teased because of his Tourette syndrome, Spencer finally feels like he belongs. But as Hope and Spencer get older and life gets messier, the clear label of “friend” gets messier, too.
Through sibling feuds and family tragedies, new relationships and broken hearts, the two grow together and apart, and Spencer, an aspiring scientist, tries to map it all out using his trusty system of taxonomy. He wants to identify and classify their relationship, but in the end, he finds that life doesn’t always fit into easy-to-manage boxes, and it’s this messy complexity that makes life so rich and beautiful.
Is there a way to understand and capture the complexities of life, friendship, and love? A Taxonomy of Love is a sweet story that captures all the magic and heartbreak of friendship and growing up.
When the new girl moves in next door, she and Spencer become strong friends. Who else but Hope could understand Spencer’s love of bugs and climbing trees. Who else could understand the ways in which he is different and yet not treat him as if he is any different at all. But sometimes life is messy and not as easy to categorise as Spencer would like. Friends, more than friends, not friends at all?
A Taxonomy of Love spans seven years. Written in six parts, plus an eliplogue, this book starts when Spencer is thirteen, picks up again when he is fourteen and continues revisiting him for a chunk of time each year until he and Hope are nineteen. In this way we readers get to view the journey of Spencer and Hope’s friendship, from their early teen years and their first days as friends spent climbing trees and making plans for the future, through family tragedies and other relationships, to times when they were not speaking and times when they were each other’s rock. This large timespan also allows readers to watch Spencer and Hope grow up. It made me really proud to see what sort of adults they were becoming, watching how their pasts shaped them, but also how the choices they made changed them. These six parts do mean that a few things are skipped over. We don’t get to witness first-hand all the major events of their lives. But this worked surprisingly well, and it was always fun to begin a new part and catch up on the events of the past year.
All the chapters are written from Spencer’s point of view, however, throughout the novel Hope’s perspective is shared through her journal entries and emails and texts to her older sister. These are particularly prominent during a traumatic time in her life and they help readers to understand what she is feeling and experiencing – if only poor Spencer could have had the same privilege. But misunderstandings, distance, and hurt are all part of life, as Spencer learns.
A Taxonomy of Love is about love and romance, but it is also about so much more than that. Spencer has Tourette’s syndrome and his journey of understanding and accepting this, or rather, more importantly, how he sees other people accepting him, is a prominent and important part of this book. So too is his relationships with his father and with his brother. Along with the complexity of his friendship with Hope, Spencer has other friendships and relationships and the glimpses of these help us to understand Spencer and who he would like to be. Wrestling, too, becomes an important part of Spencer’s life. It is all these little things that connect to make up the bigger story, one that is – at its heart – a simple but powerful journey of a young boy growing up, learning, falling in love, and accepting himself.
The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.
Category: Young adult fiction.
Themes: Tourette’s syndrome, friendship, science, taxonomy, brothers, relationships, family, love, romance, grief, death, high school, bullying.
Reading age guide: Ages 12 and up.
Advisory: Infrequent coarse language – f*** (10), sh** (22), bi*** (1), pi** (12), as***** (6). Sexual references- references to sex, no details.
Published: 9 January 2018 by Amulet Books.
Format: Hardcover, ebook. 336 pages.