Book Review: The Mixtape to My Life

A lovable queer romance contemporary set in the nineties about Justin Ortega trying to find himself whilst being there for his loved ones. This book filled me with awe over the relationships and the amazing soundtrack!

Justin Ortega might as well be starring in his very own coming-of-age 80s movie. If only he could find his dream boy to pull up in front of his house in a red convertible and sweep him off his feet, already! At seventeen years young, he isn’t quite Mexican enough for his South Texas town; isn’t manly enough for his father; can sometimes be too much of a smart mouth for his mother; and as for the other kids at school—let’s just say he’d be cast as the quiet nerd with a heart of gold…and an ear for music.

The one solace Justin has is his love of 80s hair metal bands, which he listens to on his beloved Sony Walkman. The songs, lyrics, and melody keep him just sane enough to escape the pressures of school and help navigate the hurdles life brings. Especially with the doozy this year is shaping up to be. Not only does he have to try out for a captain position which is rightfully his, but his best friend has found a new girlfriend, leaving Justin to fend for himself in a school where he’s mostly known as simply Coconut.

Enter Dominic Mendoza. Sweet, funny, and a blast from his past, the hunky football player has moved in next door. Justin could never forget how Dominic protected him in the eighth grade, nor the way Dominic made him feel, then…and now.

Except, this isn’t a movie. Confusion, friendship, and love won’t guarantee a happy ending unless Justin can learn to accept himself for who he truly is. Hair bands and all.

Thank you to NetGalley who approved my request to read this book and to Deep Hearts YA who provided a digital copy! I love the vibrant cover which speaks for Justin’s personality that he’s trying to express throughout the story.

This was an evenly spaced contemporary that didn’t drag to a point where I wanted to pull on my hair. The parts I did, though, was Justin’s emotions taking over him. We’ll get into that later. The story is told through Justin’s eyes. His emotions and perspective at band camp, while the boy who rescued him years ago, moves back and becomes his neighbor. The dialogue is short and sweet with variations of Spanish whenever Justin is home. The chapters aren’t too long. Descriptive language is my favorite thing to spot in a book, and it’s used to a good extent.

The plot itself was a real coming of age. I liked the idea of it all revolving around Justin’s band camp. The fact that he’s in band and not in drama which can be a common stereotype for queer people. Also, that it’s set in the nineties gives it a fresh read. There are no mobile phones, but Justin loves his Walkman. His music is an escape and contributes to his love for band. He’s also Hispanic in Texas, so it’s quite the rollercoaster for him on his coming out time.

Justin Ortega was a loving character to read from whom you could sympathize from since he was bullied. His parents are strict, so it only makes him more nervous and alone in the world when he has no one to turn to. There’s his best friend Benny, but he soon gets a girlfriend. Around the same time, Dominic shows up and is the kindest human being to Justin. Flirtatious gestures are tossed but they remain low key from everyone. The only thing that got me with Justin was the way he acted out all the time. He didn’t give anyone a chance to speak and often assumed. There are a lot of inner thoughts Justin faces. It’s hard for him to come out to anyone but his best friend. It’s understandable that he get emotional sometimes.

Onto Benny, the best friend and goofball. He’s the best friend anyone could ever have. Yes, Justin and him get into arguments, but they’re still there for each other and know each so damn well! I’ve never read such a good side character who sticks through till the end. Benny is there during Justin’s difficulties, even when he gets a girlfriend. It’s none of that cliche bit where one drifts from another because of a love interest. It even reaches a point where I question Benny’s sexuality? Joking… but I have to admire Martinez for balancing their relationship throughout the story.

Dominic is an aura of mystery that girls even attract themselves too! He’s kind and understanding and such a good listener. He doesn’t care or pay attention to the world when Justin is around. Yet he has his secrets, and it plays nicely into Justin’s life. It eases the tension in their friendship. They're drawn to each other so deeply that Dominic knows Justin so well. That’s when he gets jealous. I don’t know if I liked this about Dominic. If he’s protectiveness of Justin was supposed to be labeled as cute or seen as him being the alpha in their relationship. That side of him doesn’t go deep into the book, but I admired the times he stood up for Justin when Benny couldn’t.

Apart from Justin’s relationships in this book, I loved the overall friendships and relationships in this book. It’s genuine and if someone has done something wrong, it was because they did it out of careless—not because they wanted to hurt the one they cared about.

Justin’s parents are strict but slowly unravel as they notice things. We see his dad as the typical hardcore masculine coach who isn’t satisfied with his son being in band instead of on the field. Yet the way Martinez dealt with the situation when Justin came out or when he’s parents found out was emotional. It becomes understandable that his parents only wanted to look out for him. That his father was only scared for him because of his brother, who was also gay. It’s a common trait that parents have—they fear what the outside world might do to their children. They know the world is a scary place. Especially for queer people in the nineties. Also to take into consideration Justin’s background. The representation of coming out was dealt with nicely because everyone has their own story. Their own experiences and trails have coming to terms of who they are, what they like.

With such good songs mentioned that I have to add to my playlists and lovable characters, I have to give this a four out of five rating!

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Perth WA 6000, Australia