Hi everyone! I hope you’re doing well! Last year I tweeted about some very exciting blog-related news, and now I can finally share what it is – an interview with Phil Stamper, author of The Gravity of Us and his newest book, As Far As You’ll Take Me! I really enjoyed Phil’s debut so I jumped at the chance to do a short interview with him on his newest release! I was also lucky enough to receive an e-ARC of As Far As You’ll Take Me on Netgalley so I thought, why not combine the two in this post! Without any further ado, here are my thoughts on the book and, if you scroll a little bit further you’ll find the interview!
Title: As Far As You’ll Take Me
Author: Phil Stamper
Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, Young Adult
Synopsis: Marty arrives in London with nothing but his oboe and some savings from his summer job, but he’s excited to start his new life–where he’s no longer the closeted, shy kid who slips under the radar and is free to explore his sexuality without his parents’ disapproval.
From the outside, Marty’s life looks like a perfect fantasy: in the span of a few weeks, he’s made new friends, he’s getting closer with his first ever boyfriend, and he’s even traveling around Europe. But Marty knows he can’t keep up the facade. He hasn’t spoken to his parents since he arrived, he’s tearing through his meager savings, his homesickness and anxiety are getting worse and worse, and he hasn’t even come close to landing the job of his dreams. Will Marty be able to find a place that feels like home?
As Far As You’ll Take Me is Phil Stamper’s second novel, and a huge step up from his first, both in terms of his writing style, and in terms of the tough topics tackled. In As Far As You’ll Take Me we follow Marty, who is starting his new life in London with just his oboe, his suitcase and his meagre savings from his part time job in America along with him. He is determined to make the most of his time in London, escaping the homophobic Christian background of his parents and embracing his sexuality. There, he gets his first boyfriend and travels across Europe with his new friends and his cousin, but things aren’t rosy as they first seem as he grapples with finding a job, starts dealing with homesickness and struggles with his body image.
I enjoyed Phil Stampers first novel, The Gravity of Us, which I was also lucky enough to read as an ARC, so I jumped at the chance to read his latest novel, particularly as it is set in Europe, unlike many queer contemporary YA novels. First and foremost, Stamper’s writing this time round has definitely evolved – I found myself extremely engrossed in Marty’s story and had to force myself to put the book down while reading it late at night, my eyelids drooping as sleep threatened to take over. His descriptions of the places that Marty visit’s were incredible and, despite never having visited any of them, I could picture myself sitting in a rainy Costas with a cup of hot chocolate, or strolling the streets of Florence right there alongside him.
I think Marty was an excellent main character and I loved seeing things from his point of view. Just as in in his first novel, Stamper explores anxiety in a really great way, and just as it was one of my favourite things about his debut novel, I think that it was excellently tackled in this book too. We see Marty struggle with taking new opportunities and dealing with crowds and his coping mechanisms that he uses to deal with these situations and, as someone who also struggles with anxiety, I really related to him. A big part of Marty’s character is his love of music and, despite not knowing anything about musical instruments or composing, or anything at all related to music, honestly, I found myself really enjoying this aspect of the novel, particularly seeing Marty busking with his friends and feeling the emotion that is put into every piece. Similarly to subject matter in The Gravity of Us, you can really tell that it’s a topic that Phil Stamper is so passionate about, and that really shines through, giving the reader a real sense of that passion, too.
We get a really great found family in this book, made up of Marty’s cousin, Shane, and his friend group. I loved all of the side characters and I loved the queerness of this book overall. There were a few characters of colour there too, including (probably my favourite character in the book), Sophie, Marty’s new best friend in London. I loved how open and caring, and how unafraid of telling you what you need to hear she is. Alongside this, we also see a friend break up that I think was portrayed really excellently. I have also experienced a toxic friendship and I think the reluctance to leave the friendship because you know that there were some good times had despite how awful they can make you feel, was done so well, and I appreciated seeing Marty stand up for himself near the end of the book. Alongside that, the book also discusses romantic relationships that aren’t exactly all that healthy, and without spoiling anything, I also really welcomed that narrative.
As I mentioned, I found myself completely engrossed in Phil Stamper’s writing and, although I’d say that this is a very character-driven book, there were never any dull moments, and as someone who absolutely adores character driven books, this was really the perfect book for me! If I have one criticism about the book, it would be the disordered eating representation. Aside from the fact that it wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the ARC as a content warning (I don’t know if it is mentioned in the finished copy), I think I would have liked that included, as disordered eating can be quite triggering for me. I liked that it tackled body image and toxic masculinity within the gay community, but I thought that it felt quite superficial and that this aspect of the story wasn’t developed enough for my liking – it felt almost like an afterthought to the rest of the story.
Regardless, I absolutely loved this contemporary standalone and I think it’s one of the best queer YA contemporary novels I’ve read in a long time! I highly recommend picking this one up and I can’t wait to see what Phil Stamper has in store for the future!
What inspired you to write Marty’s story?
I took a lot of inspiration from my own life, which is why it’s such a personal story to me. As a queer teen, I always felt like I needed to escape my conservative rural village, and I was able to do that in college, studying music, falling into a group of wonderful and accepting friends who became family.
But even though I could finally be myself for the first time, I really had to come to terms with my anxiety, I fell in love with all the wrong guys, and I struggled with a ton of body image issues. I lived in London for a while, which is what inspired the setting. So, putting all of that together, I was able to fictionalize a lot of my own experiences and bring them into the dazzling environment in London and across various European cities.
What was the most challenging part of writing As Far As You’ll Take Me?
The hardest part for me was building the love interest’s character in a way that showed his flaws but didn’t fully condemn him as a person. I really wanted to show the readers why Pierce was bad for Marty, while still showing why Marty so desperately wants their relationship to work out… but in early drafts, Pierce would come off as a bit of a villain, which always felt wrong to me. Sometimes, our first loves are just not the right fit, and eventually you’ll work it out with them or you don’t, but that doesn’t mean either of you are bad—you’re just human!
Without giving away any spoilers, what was your favourite scene to write in the book?
At first, my mind went to all of the lovely places the characters visited in the book. Describing parts of London, Cardiff, Florence, Brighton, etc. was all so fun for me, because I really wanted to give readers a sense of place in these travels.
But there’s one scene I wrote much later—probably the last scene I ever wrote during edits—that became my personal favorite, and it has nothing to do with travel! In this scene, Marty slowly pieces together his oboe in a practice room at the Academy, and as he starts to play, we learn that for as much as he struggles with organized religion due to his upbringing, music has essentially become his religion. It’s a really sweet moment, and one of the first ones where we fully see Marty in his element. I think all of the musical scenes are really sweet, but this one will always mean the most to me!
Phil Stamper grew up in a rural village near Dayton, Ohio. While it could be seen as a boring lifestyle to some, he kept himself entertained through playing the piano and writing stories that stretched his imagination. He has a B.A. in Music from the University of Dayton and an M.A. in Publishing with Creative Writing from Kingston University. And, unsurprisingly, a lot of student debt. When he first left his home state, he landed in Washington, DC with no job prospects, $800 in graduation money, and the promise of a walk-in closet to live in. Not long after—and he’s not totally sure how—he was jumping headfirst into a career in non-profit PR and sleeping in a real bed. He loved writing for a living, even if he was writing press releases and news stories… and hundreds of emails to annoyed journalists. But after a while, the dry writing started to get to him, so he thought he’d finally work on that book he always wanted to write…Years later, with a new degree and two new cities under his belt, he works in publishing development for a major book publisher in New York City. He lives in Brooklyn with his husband and their dog. That book he always wanted to write never sold, and neither did the second or third. But at the intersection of hard work, talent, and luck, his best selling debut novel, The Gravity of Us, was first published by Bloomsbury YA in February 2020. His sophomore novel, As Far As You’ll Take Me, comes out February 2021.