It’s June and that means it’s time for another year of Pride Month spotlights! I’m so excited to spotlight When You Call My Name by Tucker Shaw and share the interview with the author!
Welcome Tucker! Thank you for allowing me to interview you! Can you start off by introducing yourself?
Thank you for having me. I’m Tucker Shaw. I currently live in Boston (though New York will always have my heart), I love food and cooking, I adore old screwball comedy movies, and the number one song the month I graduated high school was “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Whitney Houston.
How would you describe When You Call My Name in one sentence?
Two gay teenage boys in 1990 New York face monumental challenges and uncertain futures as the AIDS crisis continues its unrelenting march through the city.
Can you introduce us to the main character(s) of When You Call My Name?
Adam and Ben are both high school seniors on the cusp of graduation. Adam is a movie buff and hopeful romantic who’s falling quickly in love with an older boy he met through his job at a local video rental shop. Ben is a fashion fanatic from upstate who’s coming out of his shell, and his closet, to embrace a new life in the city. It’s an exciting time to be young in Manhattan, a town buzzing with creative energy — music, fashion, art, nightlife. It’s all happening. As the book unfolds, Adam and Ben tumble into each other’s lives–for better or worse.
What representation will readers find in When You Call My Name?
The main characters (and many of the supporting characters) are gay — not an easy identity to hold in 1990, given the challenges presented by the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic and a concurrent rise in anti-gay violence. In When You Call My Name you’ll meet many members of the downtown queer community and their allies. In them, I hope you will see how tightly we all held on to each other back then, because we knew that holding together was the only chance we had.
Do you know from the beginning how your books will end or do you let your characters decide their journey?
This book, while not strictly autobiographical, does draw from many of my own life experiences in the 1980s and 1990s. I wanted to render the feelings I still carry from those days, good and bad. And so in this case, I knew how the story would begin, and I knew how it would end. But in between? I think my characters and I shared the controls equally. It’s a strange and entrancing thing to feel a character chart their own course as your fingers fiddle across the keyboard, trying to keep up.
Do you have a favorite scene, moment, or quote from the book?
I know it’s not much of a quote–it’s really just a word–but to me it’s a word that contains endless possibilities. It can be here or there, good or bad, positive or negative, up or down. Like life. When you’re young and the world waits, watching, to see who you will be, you can go in a thousand different directions. Maybe this way. Maybe that way. Maybe forward, maybe back. Maybe into light, maybe into darkness. That’s where Adam and Ben are. In a moment of “maybe.”
What is something readers will find in When You Call My Name that they may not realize based on the synopsis?
To be young and gay in 1990 was very different than being young and gay today. Every era presents its own challenges for queer people, but it’s essential that we know as much about our histories as we can–not just the facts, but the feelings–so that we can better design the future. I hope that my book will give readers at least a small sense of what the world looked like from a very particular point of view at a very particular time, and to find inspiration in it.
What’s something you hope readers will take away from When You Call My Name?
When You Call My Name is not an easy story. It’s not light. Tough things happen. But when you read it, I hope that you will see that I tried to infuse it with as much humanity and warmth as I could. The world doesn’t always spin the way we want it to, but we can find our way if we stick together. This book is my way to make the case for friendship, connection, community, and for keeping your heart open, even and especially in difficult times.
What are three books you would recommend if someone enjoyed When You Call My Name?
I recommend Like A Love Story by Abdi Nazemian, a beautiful YA rendering of a similar time and place to When You Call My Name, but through a very different and very touching lens. I recommend The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, an extraordinary adult novel that not only looks at the earliest years of the AIDS epidemic, but traces its impact into the present. And if you’d like to learn more about the activists that made the difference in the 1980s and 1990s, For the Record by Sarah Schulman is an extensive and brilliant oral history of ACT/UP.
Can I recommend four? This last one isn’t about HIV/AIDS, but it’s one of the most exciting and original YA novels that I’ve read in recent years: The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta. It’s an exquisitely told story and well worth seeking out.
What’s next for you? Anything you can share?
I’m not sure! We will see. It’s a big world.
ABOUT THE BOOK
In the spirit of the author’s massively popular Twitter thread, Tucker Shaw’s When You Call My Name is a heartrending novel about two gay teens coming of age in New York City in 1990 at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, perfect for fans of Adam Silvera and Mary H. K. Choi.
Film fanatic Adam is seventeen and being asked out on his first date—and the guy is cute. Heart racing, Adam accepts, quickly falling in love with Callum like the movies always promised.
Fashion-obsessed Ben is eighteen and has just left his home upstate after his mother discovers his hidden stash of gay magazines. When he comes to New York City, Ben’s sexuality begins to feel less like a secret and more like a badge of honor.
Then Callum disappears, leaving Adam heartbroken, and Ben finds out his new world is more closed-minded than he thought. When Adam finally tracks Callum down, he learns the guy he loves is very ill. And in a chance meeting near the hospital where Callum is being treated, Ben and Adam meet, forever changing each other’s lives. As both begin to open their eyes to the possibilities of queer love and life, they realize sometimes the only people who can help you are the people who can really see you—in all your messy glory.
A love letter to New York and the liberating power of queer friendship, When You Call My Name is a hopeful novel about the pivotal moments of our youth that break our hearts and the people who help us put them back together.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tucker Shaw’s new YA novel, WHEN YOU CALL MY NAME, follows two gay teenagers during the height of the AIDS crisis in New York City in 1990. In hard times, nothing is more powerful than friendship.