Author photo of Mason Deaver
August 2022

The heartfelt, trope-tastic, laugh-till-your-sides-hurt, best YA rom-com of the summer

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Acclaimed author Mason Deaver's third YA novel, The Feeling of Falling in Love, is a rom-com romp about finding love and yourself when you least expect it.
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Sometimes our hearts can be so clueless. Neil Kearney finds this out the hard way when his friend-with-benefits catches feelings. Neil doesn’t reciprocate, so now he’s lost not only a steady hookup but also a date to his brother’s wedding.

The solution? Neil ropes his obnoxiously earnest, annoyingly hardworking, aggravatingly kind boarding school roommate, Wyatt Fowler, into pretending to be boyfriends for the weeklong nuptial festivities. Sure, Neil and Wyatt can hardly stand each other (Wyatt wears Crocs, for goodness sake!), but what’s the worst that can happen in a week?

Acclaimed author Mason Deaver’s third YA novel, The Feeling of Falling in Love, is a rom-com romp about finding love and yourself when you least expect it.

In the novel’s acknowledgments, you mention that it took years to crack this story. What turned out to be the key to unlocking it?
The book has been through so many iterations. It was originally a road trip novel in which Neil enlisted Wyatt to help him get revenge on a boy who cheated on him, and along the way, Neil and Wyatt would fall in love but deny their feelings. So, different, but not that different. Neil and Wyatt largely stayed the same since those original drafts, but I could never really figure out how to connect myself to that plot. And if I can’t do that, then I can’t write something; that’s just how my brain is. 

Then I watched My Best Friend’s Wedding at the suggestion of another writer-friend, and everything that I wasn’t getting clicked in an instant: a wedding instead of a road trip, fake dating while also actually falling in love slowly over the week, family drama. 

How would you describe Neil and Wyatt when we first meet them?
Neil and Wyatt start the book in very opposite places. Neil begins the book in (what I think he’d believe is) a time of contentment. He has friends, he has his thing with Josh, he’s away from his family. Wyatt really is the only thing that concerns him, simply because Wyatt is Wyatt. 

Wyatt, however, is frustrated, a fish out of water in a school full of people who make them feel unwelcome, away from their family when they’d love to be back home, doing double the work just to make sure they can maintain their place at a prestigious school they’d probably rather not be at. 

But as we move along to the wedding, Neil feels more unwelcome because of who his family is and how they treat him, and while Wyatt might not feel at home around Neil’s family, they’re able to handle the situation better than Neil. It’s a chance for Wyatt to understand where Neil is coming from and what he’s gone through, while Neil comes to understand how his actions have made Wyatt feel. 

I think that’s what makes them both perfect for each other: They’re missing what the other has, and they’re never afraid to challenge each other. 

“It’s a scary thing, asking someone to love you, and it’s never just once. Love is a risk you take every single day.”

The Feeling of Falling in Love has such great tropes, including a time-constrained plot, fake dating, a wedding and an enemies-to-lovers romance. What do you love about these tropes? 
This book has some of my favorite tropes, even ones you didn’t mention, like a grumpy/sunshine dynamic and a height difference. But enemies-to-lovers (or enemies-to-friends-to-lovers, rather) is an absolute favorite of mine. I love exploring just why these characters dislike each other—sometimes for valid reasons, other times for something shallow and silly—and watching as they slowly find common ground, a connection. 

What elements of the tropes did you want to preserve in this book versus what elements did you want to upend or subvert?
I wanted to subvert something you might not think of as a trope—but sometimes tropes can be a bad thing—which is the idea of a trans/cis romance. It’s so common in stories about a transgender person falling in love for them to find a relationship with a cisgender person. Even my own work includes it. Wyatt’s character was trying to tell me something about themselves I hadn’t cracked yet. And now the book gets to be a sweet romance between two trans teens, something even more rare than the trans rom-com.  

Neil’s reflection on his relationship to his body after gender-confirmation surgery is so powerful and complex. Why was it important to you to include these moments in the story?
Neil’s relationship to his body is a story that mirrors mine and many other trans people’s stories. There’s this idea that surgery is a magical fix for trans people, or that it’s this necessary party of transitioning, and that once you’ve gotten it, all your dysphoria vanishes—when that couldn’t be further from the truth. Some trans people want surgery, and nothing can be more affirming. Others are fine with just having one surgery over the other. Some might not want surgery at all or even to undergo hormone replacement therapy. There’s no one singular way to be trans, and so long as you’re comfortable with where you are in your journey, nothing else has to matter. 

I very much wanted to explore how different trans experiences can be. Neil is at a place in his journey where he wanted top surgery but not bottom surgery, where he was offered the chance to cover his scars but decided they’re a point of pride for him. He’s very proud of his trans body, and he likes who he is, for the most part. 

“Neil and Wyatt rhyme with each other. They have what the other doesn’t, both literally and metaphorically.”

I also really love that you explore how deeply class differences impact how Neil and Wyatt have been perceiving each other. How did you craft this aspect of the novel, and what do you hope readers take from it?
On the surface, it was such an easy way to make Neil unlikable. He’s a spoiled rich kid with no regard for anyone but himself. He dresses in expensive brands, throws money at his problems and doesn’t seem to have a care in the world. I love characters like that, the irredeemable jerks you aren’t meant to like. 

But beyond the surface of Neil’s character, I wanted to explore this idea that money hasn’t really gotten him anywhere. He afforded the surgeries and his expensive school, but at the cost of any real connections in his life, both to his friends and to his family. 

Neil and Wyatt rhyme with each other. They have what the other doesn’t, both literally and metaphorically. Neil’s money would solve so many of Wyatt’s issues at home, allow their parents to take a break and pay off loans or buy new clothing. But Wyatt’s family have these rich connections with one another, and they’re an actual family who love and care for one another. So Neil has something Wyatt wants, and Wyatt has something that Neil wants. The two of them go together in that sense.  

There are two incredibly rich scenes in this book that both involve suits. What kinds of research did you do to create these scenes? Why are these scenes so meaningful for Neil and for Wyatt, and how did you create that richness of meaning?
Just as reaffirming as surgery can be, fashion for trans people is instrumental in our ability to represent ourselves. Sure, clothing has no gender and anyone should be able to wear whatever they want, but for trans people, that euphoria of searching through the men’s or women’s section can mean so much as we find cuts and styles that make us feel welcome in our bodies. 

I spent way too much time researching the brands in the book, even the ones that aren’t named, scoping their websites and using their catalogs to give Neil his knowledge and love of fashion. Neil loves the feeling of a suit and that euphoria it gives him to dress exactly how he feels, while Wyatt has never had access to these kinds of clothes before. Wyatt becomes uncomfortable when presented with clothes that could put groceries on his family’s dinner table, whereas Neil doesn’t bat an eye as he swipes his mother’s credit card without even asking Wyatt how he feels. 

The novel includes a number of what I’d call near kisses—moments when it seems like Neil and Wyatt are definitely going to kiss, but don’t. Be honest: Did you ever laugh an evil laugh while writing these?
Absolutely I evil laugh. I love these fake-out moments, these just misses. It adds so much to the characters, gives them so much to reflect on, these fleeting moments when something could’ve happened, but didn’t. 

“There’s still such a lack of romance stories centered on trans characters, on trans joy, trans happiness and trans characters finding love in both themselves and each other. It makes me sad that we don’t have more.”

Toward the end of the novel, a few different characters offer Neil some pretty similar pieces of advice. My favorite is when Neil’s cousin tells him, “Love is a risk, okay? Every single person in love takes a risk every single day of their lives.” What advice would you give someone who, like Neil, finds love absolutely terrifying?
That entire ending is a conversation with myself, I think. Being trans and wanting love are two things that always seem at odds with each other. Wanting a relationship with someone means outing myself and having that conversation, something that could potentially go very badly and end things. Or, possibly worse, they just don’t understand your identity. 

It’s a scary thing, asking someone to love you, and it’s never just once. Love is a risk you take every single day, and it’s never one of those things that gets less scary, you just learn how to deal with it on a day-to-day basis. 

That’s what Neil is struggling with: letting someone in who could possibly hurt him, letting someone see the uglier side of him, working on himself to keep this relationship alive. It’s the lesson he learns in the book, that love is a risk worth taking. 

I’m ending at the beginning: This book is dedicated to “every trans person who ever believed they were too complicated for a love story.” Why are stories of trans love and trans joy so important? 
I grew up never seeing stories about queer love. The first time I ever read a book where a queer character got a happy ending, got the boy and the kiss, was Becky Albertalli‘s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Steadily, year by year, we’ve been opening ourselves up to so many different stories by so many different kinds of writers, and it’s amazing to see. 

But there’s still such a lack of romance stories centered on trans characters, on trans joy, trans happiness and trans characters finding love in both themselves and each other. It makes me sad that we don’t have more. But that just means that we need to foster trans writers, uplift their work and convince them that their stories are worth being told and worth being put on shelves.

Read our starred review of ‘The Feeling of Falling in Love.’

Author photo of Mason Deaver courtesy of Mason Deaver.

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