Blog Tour (Book Review): Straight Expectations – Calum McSwiggan


Today I am delighted to be joining The Write reads Ultimate Blog Tour for Straight Expectations by Calum McSwiggan, a charming YA romance book that has captured me heart and soul.

Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.

Book Summary:

Seventeen-year-old Max has always been out, proud and just a little spoiled. Frustrated by the lack of romantic options in his small-town high school, during an argument with his lifelong best friend Dean, Max lashes out and says he wishes he had never been born gay.

Max gets more than he bargained for when he wakes up to find his wish has come true – not only have his feelings for boys vanished, but so has Dean.

With his school life turned upside down and his relationship with his family in tatters, Max sets out on a journey of rediscovery to find a way back to the life he took for granted, and the romance he thought he’d never have.

The Review:

Ironically for a book with expectations in the title, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Straight Expectations. I was certainly not expecting it to be a book that captured my heart and soul and charmed me so thoroughly that I probably had hearts in my eyes just as Max did when Oliver was around (at least in the main timeline). YA Romance is a genre that can be a little hit or miss for me, but I think why Straight Expectations works so well, is that it is far more than a romance.

It’s about friendship.

About identity.

About being a teenager and navigating the world of high school.

It’s about family.

It’s about Acceptance.

‘I stand in front of the mirror, and, for the first time in as long as I can remember, free of the expectations of everyone around me, I really see myself. Not Gay Max, not Straight Max, just Max. The person I always was and the person I was always meant to be.’

Before we even get to the deeper elements of the book, Straight Expectations is so damn relatable because it captures that experience of going through high school and being stood on the threshold of adulthood and moving forward, confronted by choices and change, and everything left unfinished. Everyone has stood there at some point, and McSwiggan captures that element perfectly and as Bowling for Soup says ‘high school never ends’ so even of you are not a teenager now, it’s an experience that will resonate.

And we get that range of experience, from those like Dean and Alicia who know what they want, the former though wanting to hold on to the moment for a while longer, the latter willing to ignore elements of the high school experience aka. Dating to focus on that future, to those like Max who doesn’t know what lies ahead and is focused on what is missing in the hear and now. To the layers of high school society, and the tangled web of teenage hormones, crushes and the minefield of trying to date… and while the LGBTQIA+ experience is central to the story, McSwiggan gives us such a wonderfully well-rounded view, which is fantastic because it means that Max’s journey on both sides of the wish is very grounded in the world.

Max is our main character, and he undergoes a fantastic character arc. I love that this is a character who was out and proud, with a wonderful support system from friends and family to some of the teachers, and that the conflict didn’t come from the fact that he wasn’t accepted for who he was. Again, there’s that relatability with his arc starting with a crush, a feeling of missing out on a key aspect of high school life, and the looming pressure of the future with no plan in mind, but also from a wonderful conflicting experience of being aware of other people’s privileges and biases, but not of his own. It’s so easy to focus on your own issues and challenges, and I think that’s why he makes such a great protagonist because his experience, his desire for the things he’s missing out on, the pain of being left on ‘read’ and that desire – often unspoken – to be on the other side, to be normal, to have the normal experience, and there’s a power in and of itself that Max comes out and wishes to be straight.

While this book certainly plays with the idea of ‘be careful what you wish for’ and that the grass is not always greener on the other side, Max’s wish and experience on the literal other side of the fence, is a force for good and a catalyst for change. I love that becoming ‘straight’ was not the easy ride that he had expected it to be, that everything in that freaky-Friday-sequel alternate world was still very much grounded in who he was at heart, and how he saw the world, and that stripping that back. Confronting the elements that had changed, sometimes seemingly for the better, brought him step by step closer to the truth of who he was, and how the people around him really were and the challenges they faced that he had been blind to before. Some of the most powerful moments occur in that other timeline, from the realisation of what missing one person can do, to seeing how powerful community that can be once is stripped away, to realising that sometimes change and separation can be an essential step.

I will admit I am a little torn. On the one hand, Max’s realisations and reclaiming who he was, and acceptance of where things were in the ‘straight Max world’ with regards to Dean and everything else, was a fantastic conclusion in and of itself, and arguments could be made that the book could have ended shortly after he made it back to his timeline and his real self. That would have been a powerful ending in and of itself. Instead, we get a longer ending, and while I don’t necessarily think everything that occurred after that part was ended, there were elements that I really loved – from the fact that Max reconnected with Alicia and Dean in new ways, that he was able to acknowledge what he had hadn’t been able to see and showing a willingness to listen and learn, showing that the experiences and change he had gone through was more than skin deep, to actually getting to seize hold of that high school experience he wanted and getting to go on a date at last because he had settled in his own skin enough to take that step. However, the moment that really shone out for me in that part, was his conversation with his father and the idea that he had inspired him just by being himself (before losing that a little in the haze that is high school), there was just something wonderfully touching and powerful in that conversation.

All the characters in this book are charming and important in their own way. Yes, there are some stereotypes at play, but McSwiggan utilises them in interesting ways. They all feel very true to high school and the various layers of that micro-society, and I love that we get to see the different threads interacting, and that McSwiggan really captured that feeling of a rural school where everyone knows everyone.

 Dean was a standout character, he shone so brightly all the way through even when he wasn’t there, and his friendship with Max was beautifully built up and shown, and the conflict and loss was devasting because we had seen how close they were. Alicia is also a fantastic character – in both timelines – and when she glitters the floors, just yes… However, if I had to choose a favourite outside of Max then it would have to be Mrs. A. She was very much a secondary character, but the support role she played was vital and I loved that she was an anchor point in both timelines, an ally regardless of where you stood. Teachers like that can be so important, and her role here was essential – I also love that she was so aware of what mischief was really going on at the dance.

This a book that I wish I could have read years ago, but I’m very glad that I’ve been able to read it now. It’s charming, full of humour and glitter, and yet it hits on so many important elements. McSwiggan explores so many questions about identity and acceptance – both self and broader acceptance, the idea of community, of privilege and what it truly means to be an ally, and yet Straight Expectations does not get caught up in those elements but weaves it throughout. Straight Expectations is wonderfully charming story, with characters that capture your heart, and with undertones that will leaving you thinking long after the last page, and with a wonderful feeling that you CAN be yourself. That you should be yourself. And that sometimes, all you need to do is listen, and take a walk in someone else’s shoes.

CALUM MCSWIGGAN is an author, presenter, and LGBTQ+ advocate. He’s worked for Attitude magazine, written for the Metro, Gay Times and PinkNews, and was recently placed in the Guardian’s list of the 50 most influential LGBTQ+ figures. Putting LGBTQ+ stories at the heart of everything he does, he’s produced award-winning films that have been showcased at film festivals around the world and racked up over 10 million views on his online videos.

Social Media:

Twitter | Goodreads |

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK | Amazon US | Toppings & Company | Waterstones


If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.


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