Always the Almost

written by Edward Underhill,
Published by Wednesday Books, 2023

Sixteen-year-old trans boy Miles Jacobson makes two New Year’s resolutions on a frozen Wisconsin night: to win back his ex-boyfriend (and star of the football team) Shane McIntyre, and to finally beat his slimy arch-nemesis, Cameron Hart, at the Midwest’s biggest classical piano competition.  This is not going to be easy.  For one thing, Shane broke up with Miles two weeks after Miles came out as trans last year, and now Shane ignores him, even when they literally bump into each other at school.  Miles total doesn’t understand.  After all, he’s basically still the same person on the inside, and Shane will eventually see that he still loves Miles, like he did last year, and that nothing’s really changed in their love for each other.  For another thing, Miles’s new, slightly terrifying piano teacher, Stefania, keeps telling Miles that he’s playing like he “doesn’t know who he is” – whatever that means.  

She tells him, “If you want to play this music in front of other people, and have it really mean something, then it has to mean something to you.  You can’t play it safe.  You play like someone who has only ever been told what to play and how to play it.  You play like this music doesn’t belong to you Figure out why you want to play it.  Figure out what this music means to you, outside of competitions and teachers and schools.”

To further complicate Miles’s life, there is a new boy at school who’s really into him.  Eric Mendez is a proud queer cartoon artist who has just moved with his family cross-country from Seattle to Uptown, Wisconsin.  Eric immediately locks eyes with Miles in homeroom on his first day andquickly strikes up a friendship.  Eric is the first person who upon meetingMiles says, “Nice to meet you. What pronouns do you use?”  This is so refreshing as Miles gets misgendered frequently, and sometimes feels awkward expressing his male gender.  Eric cares about the arts just like Miles does and “gets” him in ways that no one else ever has.  When Eric and Miles “pretend” date to get an invitation to a couples-only Valentine’s Day party, the ruse turns real when Eric gives Miles a first kiss.  This certainly is not something Miles’s was planning on when he made his New Year’s resolutions.  

If only Miles could figure out why Eric likes him so much. After all, it’s not like Miles is cool or confident or comfortable in his own skin. He’s not even good enough at piano to get his fellow competitors to respect him, especially now, as Miles.  What will this year’s tri-state piano competition be like if he can’t figure out who he is?  Nothing has ever been as easy for Miles as it seems to be for other people.  He’s only ever been almost enough… so why, now when he is with Eric, does it feel like the only person he has not been enough foris for himself?  

This is a skillfully written coming-of-age narrative, rom-com, and love letter to classical music.  From the very first chapter, readers will empathize with Miles and his quest to prove himself … to himself… as a trans man, as a competitive musician, and as a true friend and respectable human being.  Miles’s friends, family, and piano teacher believe in him and help him every step of the way on his journey towards self-discovery and self-love.  

Edward Underhill (he/him) is a queer trans man who grew up in the suburbs of Wisconsin.  He studied music composition in college, then earned a master’s degree in film music composition.  Always the Almostis his debut novel.  He dedicates this book “To every trans and queer reader – you are always, always enough.  

He writes this note “to the reader” at the beginning of the book:  

​Before you read this book, I want you to know two things:

1. First, this book is full of joy.  Queer joy.  Trans joy.  (And some snark.)
2. Second, this book also has moments of heaviness, hurtful language, and the ripple effects of that language.

I’m a trans person, and while Miles is not me and his story is not mine, some of his experiences are drawn from my own.  And, as is often true for queer folks, they are not all joyful experiences.  ​

If you’d like a list of content warnings, you can find that on my website (

As for content promises:  I promise this book has a happy ending.

This book review was submitted by Stand with Trans
advocate Barb Shumer, who is a past board member and
retired public librarian.

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