The latest offering from Toronto YA author Markus Harwood-Jones is a bright and quirky tale that explores themes of self-worth and social marginalization from the perspective of a young girl away from home at summer camp.
High-school student Jassie is resigned to being routinely ostracized by her peers, who find her strange and different – and neither her nor her parents expect this to change anytime soon. So Jassie is sent off to a performance camp in the hopes that she’ll use the opportunity to make some friends. Surprising herself, Jassie does become close with two other kids at camp, the eccentric rebel Syd and the quiet guitarist Ams. But with this intimacy comes newfound difficulties to be wrestled with: the negotiation of boundaries, the expression of needs and desires, and the understanding that society doesn’t respect or allow all kinds of love – especially love that moves beyond the boundaries of heterosexuality and monogamy.
Harwood-Jones recognizes that summer camp is a microcosm of the teenage world and the perfect setting to interrogate and discuss overarching social norms. Jassie brings the reader along on a series of mature realizations spurned by the gentle affection of her new friends. She learns about how every person has their own inherent worth; how we all need to be met where we’re at, understood, and validated in order to succeed; and how important it is to find the people who will affirm you. We watch Jassie grow once Ams and Syd become voices that counter the criticism and negativity that she faces – illustrating what a kind word, gesture, or act of love can do.
We Three is unapologetically, concretely queer. It manages to tackle difficult topics, including transphobia, homophobia, and cis-sexism in a way that’s organic and unstifling – introducing the reader to characters and relationships that navigate these oppressive systems and showing in a visceral way what it means to grow up while embodying these differences. We’re introduced to the pressures of living in a harshly gendered world by non-binary Ams and bear witness to the subtler ways homophobia can manifest through Syd.
We Three illustrates the struggles faced by children who have to mature fast once they realize they don’t fit into what cisgender, hetero-normative society has ordained for them. But at the same time, it shows the beauty and strength that emanates from a person’s life once they come to terms with their own differences and become determined to live truthfully and without shame.