Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles! If you are in the United States then I hope you had a lovely long weekend. It flew by far too quickly and I’m currently combatting the scaries by writing this post. At least it’ll be a four-day week…anyways, today I bring to you a review of what might be one of my favorite reads this year. Every time I think of this book, I smile, so I promise that you are only doing yourself a favor by picking up Steven Rowley’s The Guncle.
From the bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus and The Editor comes a warm and deeply funny novel about a once-famous gay sitcom star whose unexpected family tragedy leaves him with his niece and nephew for the summer.
Patrick, or Gay Uncle Patrick (GUP, for short), has always loved his niece, Maisie, and nephew, Grant. That is, he loves spending time with them when they come out to Palm Springs for weeklong visits, or when he heads home to Connecticut for the holidays. But in terms of caretaking and relating to two children, no matter how adorable, Patrick is honestly a bit out of his league.
So when tragedy strikes and Maisie and Grant lose their mother and Patrick’s brother has a health crisis of his own, Patrick finds himself suddenly taking on the role of primary guardian. Despite having a set of “Guncle Rules” ready to go, Patrick has no idea what to expect, having spent years barely holding on after the loss of his great love, a somewhat-stalled career, and a lifestyle not-so-suited to a six- and a nine-year-old. Quickly realizing that parenting—even if temporary—isn’t solved with treats and jokes, Patrick’s eyes are opened to a new sense of responsibility, and the realization that, sometimes, even being larger than life means you’re unfailingly human.
With the humor and heart we’ve come to expect from bestselling author Steven Rowley, The Guncle is a moving tribute to the power of love, patience, and family in even the most trying of times.
Overall rating: 4.5/5
Genre: Contemporary fiction, LGBTQIA+
Read if you loved: The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
Content warnings: Death of a loved one, addiction (all content warnings not included due to risk of spoilers)
This book was everything I needed. It is therapy, comfort, and humor all wrapped into one short yet endlessly deep story that will be tucked into a corner of my heart for a Long time. Like The House in the Cerulean Sea, The Guncle felt like a warm hug that I did not want to let go of and I could not recommend it more.
We follow Patrick, a gay celebrity who left the spotlight following the tragic death of his partner to live in isolation in Palm Springs. This self-imposed solitude is quickly ripped away when he is confronted with the loss of his best friend and sister-in-law, leaving him to care for her two children while his brother seeks treatment for drug addiction. What ensues is a summer of grief, healing, and learning that not being okay is okay, and it is a lesson that reduced me to tears on several occasions. Not only did I fall in love with Patrick, Maisie, and Grant, but also with the motley of wonderful side characters who each brought something special to the story. There is so much diversity that isn’t just there to check a box, but is thoroughly explored so as to highlight their value and beauty. The scenes with Maisie and her swimsuit, Patrick and the letter, and literally anything with JED were my highlights – each embodying a distinct reason for why I loved this book so much. The sheer emotional complexity that Rowley packs into this tale while keeping things light and funny is so impressive, making this a must-read.
I did dock half a star but it is probably a function of my greed rather than an actual flaw in the book. The way it’s written had a lot of fade-to-black moments that I wish were explored. There’s a specific midnight party scene that I was devastated to see left off page, but it goes to show how I couldn’t get enough of the main trio. The other, perhaps more legitimate criticism, is the ending. It was a bit rushed – given how carefully Rowley unpacks Patrick’s numerous emotional turning points, the story was a tad quick to wrap itself up in a neat bow. I also didn’t quite care for Emory – I understood the intention there but I would have either liked to see that developed further or left off. As it’s currently written, I am indifferent towards that particular plot line and wish the page time went to the kids.
What is even more exciting is that The Guncle is being adapted to a movie! I was over the moon to hear that news since this seems like the exact type of story that so many people will need coming out of the pandemic. It is raw, hopeful, and just a delight on so many levels. Also – please read Rowley’s acknowledgments because it is adorable. In the meantime, I will be adding his previous works to my TBR because I need more wholesome content in my life.