The Blurb On The Back:
Fifteen-year-old Mack is a hopeless romantic. He’s had a crush on Karim for what feels like forever, so he can’t believe it when gorgeous, popular Karin seems into him too.
But when Mack’s dad gets a film directing job in Scotland, Mack moves with him, and soon discovers how painful long distance love is. Love shouldn’t only be on the weekends. It’s made worse by the fact that Karim can be so hard to read.
Then Mack meets actor Finlay on set and experiences something electric.
Mack never thought he’d find love, but now two boys want him. How long until his old and new life collide?
ONLY ON THE WEEKENDS was released in the United Kingdom on 24th May 2022. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.
You can order ONLY ON THE WEEKENDS by Dean Atta from Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK. I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
15-year-old Mackintosh “Mack” Fadayomi lives with his dad Teju (a successful film director) in a large house in Bow, east London. His mum died from cancer when he was very young. Despite the money his dad earns, Mack goes to a local state school with his best friends Femi and Sim where he has had a crush on Karim (known as “K”) for ages. K is the king of the school basketball team, handsome, athletic and incredibly popular. Although everyone knows that Mack is gay (courtesy of an interview that his father gave to the media), Mack doesn’t know if K is gay and even if he is, is sure that K would never go for someone like Mack (who is conscious of being overweight and sometimes feels self-conscious and unattractive).
Then Mack finds himself in a food technology class with K’s cousin, Mariam (known to everyone as “Maz”). Maz is smart, ambitious and into movies and like Mack, lost her mum at a young age. It isn’t long before she and Mack form a friendship and soon Mack finds himself invited to the flat where she lives with K and her taxi-driver dad who everyone calls Uncle O. To Mack’s surprise (and perhaps with more than a bit of encouragement from Maz), he finds himself getting closer with K who, incredibly, seems to like him too. It isn’t long before the two start dating, but despite himself Mack remains insecure in part because K doesn’t want to go public with their relationship and is not demonstrative in his affection.
As Mack tries to process and enjoy his relationship with K, his dad drops a bombshell: he’s going to Glasgow for two or three months to film a new movie and Mack has to move with him. Mack is devastated and resentful, even though his dad sees it as a chance for them to re-connect in the city where he studied at university and met Mack’s mum (Mack is named for their favourite architect and artist – Charles Rennie Mackintosh). His dad promises that he can still go back to London on the weekends and he and K agree to go long-distance and try to make it work.
Everything changes though when Mack meets Finlay (known as Fin) who is starring in his dad’s film. Fin is trans and gained a large social media following based on a magazine he produced describing his experiences, which Mack’s dad is now making into a film. Fin is out and proud and makes clear his interest in Mack – basically, everything that K is not. Although Mack is determined to stay faithful to K, he finds himself getting closer to Fin and his friends Ross and Cleo. It isn’t long before he finds himself torn between K and his life in London and Fin and his life in Glasgow and the more Mack tries to work out who he is and what he wants, the more he realises that someone is going to get hurt …
Dean Atta’s LGBTQ+ YA novel frames a coming-of-age story within a romance to interesting effect. The economy of Atta’s verse format works really well to highlight the emotional state of the characters and the gulf between them and Atta sensitively handles the difficulties of being gay within some communities. That said, Mack’s economic privilege and the disparity between him and K never gets called on and the ending does one boy a disservice.
I picked this up because I thoroughly enjoyed Atta’s last YA novel THE BLACK FLAMINGO, which uses the same verse format that Atta deploys here. His verse is economical but natural and adapts very well to when he’s depicting text messages between characters. It also works to highlight the gaps between characters, e.g. the way Mack doesn’t feel able to speak with K about his insecurities but also the way that Mack doesn’t feel able to address his own weaknesses and poor behaviour.
The way Atta depicts Mack and K’s relationship makes the reader feel a lot of empathy with both of them. Mack is a bit emotionally needy, in part because his father is often absent and unavailable, and he’s insecure about how he looks and what he does so, e.g. although he’s out he doesn’t feel able to tell Femi and Sim how he likes to wear make-up. Meanwhile K is much more reticent about how he feels and is trying to come to terms with his identity as a gay teen given that he comes from a Muslim community. While Mack is frustrated with K’s unwillingness to be out and kiss in public, Atta makes you understand that K is equally insecure about how that would be taken, in part because he’s worried that it wouldn’t be understood by his basketball team mates and could see him ostracised.
Mack and Fin’s relationship forms a neat counterpoint to that because Fin’s whole identity has been put out into the public domain. He’s very open about who he is and what he wants and he’s gained a big social media following because of it. It’s interesting that Mack doesn’t have a social media presence because he doesn’t want to do anything that would cause issues for his dad, even though his dad has no issue with talking about Mack and his life in interviews. I could see why Mack is drawn to Fin perhaps more than why Fin is drawn to Mack.
One thing that doesn’t get talked about in the book though is Mack’s economic privilege. His dad is very successful, which is why he lives in a big house and can afford Versace and other designer clothes while thinking nothing of buying two West Ham season tickets for K’s birthday. I would have liked more acknowledgement of this in his scenes with K because there are times when it reads like Mack, in his insecurity, is trying to buy K and although this is mentioned in a scene where they go to a vintage clothes shop together, is not something that’s explored further. In contrast, Fin is from the same working class background as K but has managed to make his own money courtesy of his social media accounts, which means that economically he is more Mack’s equal and so Mack is freer to be himself without trying to buy his affection.
Also under-developed for me was the relationship between Mack and his father. There is a lot of resentment there on Mack’s side that doesn’t get spoken. It’s clear that his father has been trying to process the grief of his wife’s death and a subsequent split with her family, which clearly turned nasty. However, while there is a sense of the two getting to know each other more towards the end of the book, there’s no real rapprochement there or acknowledgement by Teju of how he has let Mack down. In part, this makes sense because this is Mack coming to terms with who he is and what his relationships are, but it is still something that I would have liked to have seen being touched on, even if it was just an aside between Mack and Gem (the producer of his dad’s films who basically fills in as a surrogate mum).
The big issue for me though with the book is the ending. Once Mack is forced to make a decision between K and Fin, the focus is very much on how bad Mack feels. There is no resolution between him and the boy he doesn’t choose other than for Mack to write one of those awful letters that dumpers often write where they talk about how bad they feel and how much they want to be friends. On the one hand, there is a maturity to how Mack recognises that he’s behaved badly and the coming-of-age bit is his realising that it was his actions and insecurities that led to it, but on the other hand there is a smug hand washing associated with it as if he is putting the onus on that boy to take the step to resolve it (or not). I get that life is as messy and frustrating as that and I appreciated how Atta allows another character to tell Mack how used they feel, but I did wish that it had come from the boy himself.
Criticisms aside, this is a strongly written book that does feel emotionally true and highlights how messy and confusing and insecure first love can be. I would always check out Atta’s writing and I am thoroughly looking forward to seeing what he produces next.