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Book Review: Can’t Take That Away by Steven Salvatore

Publisher’s description

An empowering and emotional debut about a genderqueer teen who finds the courage to stand up and speak out for equality when they are discriminated against by their high school administration.

Carey Parker dreams of being a diva, and bringing the house down with song. They can hit every note of all the top pop and Broadway hits. But despite their talent, emotional scars from an incident with a homophobic classmate and their grandmother’s spiraling dementia make it harder and harder for Carey to find their voice. 

Then Carey meets Cris, a singer/guitarist who makes Carey feel seen for the first time in their life. With the rush of a promising new romantic relationship, Carey finds the confidence to audition for the role of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, in the school musical, setting off a chain reaction of prejudice by Carey’s tormentor and others in the school. It’s up to Carey, Cris, and their friends to defend their rights—and they refuse to be silenced. 

Told in alternating chapters with identifying pronouns, debut author Steven Salvatore’s Can’t Take That Away conducts a powerful, uplifting anthem, a swoony romance, and an affirmation of self-identity that will ignite the activist in all of us.

Amanda’s thoughts

Here’s what’s beautiful about this book: Carey is surrounded by so much love. If only all teens could have the amount of love, support, and complete acceptance Carey receives. This is such a lovely look at what parent-child relationships can be, what deep and loving friendship can look like, what teachers can mean to teens, and so much more.

The publisher’s summary up there hits all the broad strokes of the story. Mariah Carey-obsessed Carey, who is genderqueer, is a wonderful singer and decides to try out for the school musical, Wicked. They try out for and are cast as Elphaba. New friend Phoebe (who is Black and pansexual) is cast as Glinda and Carey’s new maybe-boyfriend Cris (who is Filipino, Greek, and bisexual) is cast as Fiyero. With new friendships cropping up, old friendships on their way to being repaired, the musical, and a cute boy in their life, it seems like things are starting to go well for Carey, who is also dealing with frequent panic attacks and their beloved Grams ailing from Alzheimer’s.

But it’s not all great. Carey is being bullied and blackmailed by a classmate as well as discriminated against and verbally attacked by a teacher who is out to ruin Carey’s role in the musical (readers may want to know going in that there’s suicidal ideation, lots of misgendering, and vicious bullying). Then things with Cris get really complicated. And the bullying and discrimination Carey is facing at school grow beyond anything they can try to ignore. Before long, Carey is at the center of a movement to increase the safety and support of queer kids at their school, eventually leading a protest, starting petitions, addressing the school board, and gaining national attention.

Through it all, Carey is surrounded by love and support. They have a great therapist, a fantastic mother who is 100% there to support and love her kid, and far more friends than they initially feel like are in their corner. Throughout the story, Carey needs to learn to be brave, feel safe, and trust others (you know—just really tiny and simple things—ha!) in order to be seen as they truly are. Carey comes to really understand that the reality of people is that they’re complicated and messy, but those that are there for you will be there for you no matter what. This book will leave readers with the powerful and affirming message that you are worthy, loved, perfect, important, and deserve to be seen as yourself, whatever that may look like. And while many upsetting and completely unacceptable things happen to Carey over the course of the book, Salvatore makes sure Carey always sees the love and support, ultimately leading Carey to a much happier place than they start the story in. Carey’s road is not easy—in fact, it’s very painful to read about—but the crying I mentioned up there in my tweet? It wasn’t for the all-too-realistic trauma Carey goes through—it was for the beautiful expressions of love, support, solidarity, and acceptance. All teens should be so lucky.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781547605309
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: 03/09/2021
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

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