ARC Review: Can’t Take That Away by Steven Salvatore

An empowering and emotional debut about a genderqueer teen who finds the courage to stand up and speak out for equality when they are discriminated against by their high school administration.

Carey Parker dreams of being a diva, and bringing the house down with song. They can hit every note of all the top pop and Broadway hits. But despite their talent, emotional scars from an incident with a homophobic classmate and their grandmother’s spiraling dementia make it harder and harder for Carey to find their voice.

Then Carey meets Cris, a singer/guitarist who makes Carey feel seen for the first time in their life. With the rush of a promising new romantic relationship, Carey finds the confidence to audition for the role of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, in the school musical, setting off a chain reaction of prejudice by Carey’s tormentor and others in the school. It’s up to Carey, Cris, and their friends to defend their rights–and they refuse to be silenced.

Told in alternating chapters with identifying pronouns, debut author Steven Salvatore’s Can’t Take That Away conducts a powerful, uplifting anthem, a swoony romance, and an affirmation of self-identity that will ignite the activist in all of us.

  • Title: Can’t Take That Away
  • Author: Steven Salvatore
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
  • Publication Date: March 9th, 2021 
  • Source: Netgalley
  • Genre:  LGBTQ, Own-voices, YA, Contemporary,Romance
  • Targeted Age Range: YA
  • Representation: Anxiety, Genderqueer main character, Bisexual love interest, Filipino love interest, Black side character, WLW side characters, Gay side characters
  • Trigger warnings: Alzheimer’s, Assault (Verbal, Physical, Sexual), Blackmail, Bullying, Cancer, Death (Death of a parent, death of a grandparent), Emetophobia, Forced Outing, Gender Dysphoria, Grief, Hate Crime, Homophobia, Medical Complications, Queerphobia, Sexual Assault/Harassment, Shooting (Threat), Suicide Attempt, Suicide Ideation, Transphobia
  • Rating:  ★★★★★

Can’t Take That Away is an incredibly impactful book, and one that will sit with me for a very long time.

“Every day is like coming out again. Having to tell my friends which pronouns to use, wanting to correct the teachers who call me ‘he’ when I’m ‘they’, but being too afraid to do it in the middle of class, and feeling like it doesn’t matter once the bell rings. But it does matter. I want to feel like I matter. People pretend to see me, but nobody knows me.” 

I simply couldn’t put Can’t Take That Away down. I felt my heart break again and again for Carey, and yet trusted Salvatore to piece it back together by the end. Carey Parker was such a relatable, and easy to like main character, and watching them go on their journey was something so special. I held my breath alongside theirs, anxious, even though I was pretty confident that everything would turn out alright in the end. There are so many Carey’s in the world; so many people who aren’t able to unapologetically be their true selves. And to read about yet another instance of this was just heartbreaking. But I was so proud of Carey, for overcoming their own fears and anxieties, and for standing up and speaking up. 

Can’t Take That Away is home to some well-developed side characters. Carey’s friends are nothing but supportive and loving and kind. Cris, the love interest, is thoughtful and charming — they almost remind me of Patrick from Schitt’s Creek in a way (or maybe, it’s just a particular plot point). Monroe and Joey, Carey’s lifelong friends, are protective and the biggest cheerleaders that anyone could ask for. Phoebe, a newer friend and unexpected ally, isn’t just the overachiever that she appears to be. One of my favorite things about Can’t Take That Away was how well all the characters communicated with one another. I certainly didn’t have those communication skills when I was in high school. When something that Carey did bothered Monroe, she brought it up, told them that they were being self-involved, and Carey reflected, and promised to do better – and do better they did. They followed through. When Cris voiced their needs, Carey listened and respected that. While I loved all of Carey’s friends and how they banded together as a community for them, one of my favorite relationships in this book was actually the one between Carey and their English teacher, Mr. Kelly. It’s a pretty common joke that most gay kids have a close bond with their English teachers — I was one of them, and just like Carey, actually ate lunch in my English teacher’s room during my junior year of high school. Mr. Kelly was someone who truly cared about his students, and wanted the best for them. To read about Carey’s healthy relationships with his friends, and his English teacher at school – his one ally on the teaching staff – was incredibly important. 

My other favorite relationship was Carey’s relationship with their mother, and their grandmother. Far too often are parents introduced in YA novels, only to never be talked about again. This was not the case. Carey’s mother was very clearly trying her best. A superhero, who worked two jobs to keep their family afloat, was Carey’s biggest supporter and advocate, and someone who truly had unconditional love for her child. She was always around to support Carey, and seeing a healthy relationship between a child and a parent, especially a queer child and their parent, was simply heartwarming. I also loved how therapy was normalized in Can’t Take That Away

I would also like to say that it’s absolutely heartbreaking to see a system that’s supposed to help and support and educate their students fail once again. While we all know that this happens all too well, it shouldn’t be the case. 

As a musical theatre aficionado, I absolutely loved all the theatre references, especially the Wicked ones, and this book made me reminisce on the last time I saw Wicked. This book made me feel the way seeing a musical did; it’s atmospheric, and you know exactly what each character is thinking and feeling in any given moment. Can’t Take That Away is a work of art in itself, a magnificent, spectacular production, and one that will no doubt, leave a handprint on many people’s hearts.

*Please note, this review will be updated with links to own-voices reviews when they are found.

Links for Can’t Take That Away: Goodreads | TheStorygraph | Bookshop | Indie Bound

Steven Salvatore is a young adult author, educator, Mariah Carey lamb, and Star Wars fanatic who spends most days daydreaming and making up stories. They are queer–gay and genderqueer–and use pronouns he/him and they/them.

Steven grew up in Tarrytown, New York. They studied writing and art history at Ithaca College, and received their MFA in Creative Writing with a concentration in Writing for Children from The New School. Formerly a full-time Assistant Professor of Composition and Director of the Writing Center at The College of New Rochelle (CNR), they oversaw the Freshman Writing Program and taught creative writing. After CNR officially ceased academic operations in August of 2019, they began teaching part time at Pace University and Westchester Community College. They also volunteer at The LOFT (an LGBTQ+ resource center in White Plains, New York) where they facilitate a creative writing workshop. As an educator, Steven is passionate about progressive activism on and off campus and advocating for young people. Steven currently lives in Peekskill, New York, with their amazingly patient husband, whose name is also Steve.

Follow Steven: Website | Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter

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