Bibliophile | Young love blooms in ‘As Far As You’ll Take Me’

As Far As You’ll Take Me 
by Phil Stamper
Bloomsbury

Marty is almost 18 and he is sick of living a lie. He has graduated early from high school, earned money working at a ‘shit diner’ and has a one-way ticket to London. Away from his small Kentucky town and his bible-thumping parents who think he is attending a three month music program, he is free to explore his sexuality rather than being the shy kid who slips under the radar.

Marty is determined to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity but he has no specific plans, other than being able to stay with his cousin Shane (who also happens to be gay) while Aunt Leah is away. A jumble of diary entries from 12 months previously, when he auditioned for the Knightsbridge Academy of Music in London unsuccessfully, gives the reader the background to his insecurities.

The only certainty in Marty’s life is his love of music and his ability to play the oboe. Phil Stamper writes from experience because music defined his teen years when he struggled with anxiety and disordered eating while trying to find his place in the world. “As Far As You’ll Take Me is, in every way, a love letter to music and the sense of family you get when you fall into the right ensemble – in music, or in life.”

As well as having his guard up to stop getting hurt, Marty has a building anger at his Christian upbringing that told him for so many years that his existence was wrong. Like many teenagers, Marty wonders when he will be able to stop pretending and just be the person he wants to be. He has panic attacks when thoughts crowd his brain telling him that he should change who he is rather than change the world around him, and he is really good at self-sabotaging and getting into destructive relationships.

Even though he makes new friends, travels around Europe and is getting closer to having a first boyfriend, he hasn’t spoken to his parents since his arrival in London. His meager savings are running low and he is actually homesick as well. Stamper, who is now married to his happily-ever-after husband, shows queer teenagers that they are not alone and that the fight to survive and thrive is worth it.

Lezly Herbert


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