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Publisher's Summary

A Finalist for the Booker Prize, the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize, the VCU/Cabell First Novelist Prize, the Lambda Literary Award, the NYPL Young Lions Award, and the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award 

"A blistering coming of age story." (O: The Oprah Magazine)

Named a Best Book of the Year by The New York TimesThe Washington Post, New York Public Library, Vanity Fair, Elle, NPR, The Guardian, The Paris Review, Harper's BazaarFinancial Times, Huffington Post, BBC, Shondaland, Barnes & Noble, VultureThrillist, Vice, Self, Electric Literature, and Shelf Awareness

A novel of startling intimacy, violence, and mercy among friends in a Midwestern university town, from an electric new voice.

Almost everything about Wallace is at odds with the Midwestern university town where he is working uneasily toward a biochem degree. An introverted young man from Alabama, black and queer, he has left behind his family without escaping the long shadows of his childhood. For reasons of self-preservation, Wallace has enforced a wary distance even within his own circle of friends - some dating each other, some dating women, some feigning straightness. But over the course of a late-summer weekend, a series of confrontations with colleagues, and an unexpected encounter with an ostensibly straight, white classmate, conspire to fracture his defenses while exposing long-hidden currents of hostility and desire within their community.  

Real Life is a novel of profound and lacerating power, a story that asks if it’s ever really possible to overcome our private wounds, and at what cost.

©2020 Brandon Taylor (P)2020 Penguin Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: LGBTQ+

Critic Reviews

"[A] stunning debut...Taylor proves himself to be a keen observer of the psychology of not just trauma, but its repercussions.... There is a delicacy in the details of working in a lab full of microbes and pipettes that dances across the pages like the feet of a Cunningham dancer: pure, precise poetry." (Jeremy O. Harris, The New York Times Book Review)

"Equal parts captivating, erotic, smart and vivid...[rendered] with tenderness and complexity, from the first gorgeous sentence of his book to its very last...Taylor is also tackling loneliness, desire and - more than anything - finding purpose, meaning and happiness in one’s own life." (Time)

"[Real Life is] a sophisticated character study of someone squaring self-preservation with a duty to tolerate people who threaten it. The book teems with passages of transfixing description, and perhaps its greatest asset is the force of Wallace’s isolation, which Taylor conveys with alien strangeness." (The New Yorker)

Featured Article: The Best LGBTQIA+ Listens by Queer Authors


We scoured the big and beautiful LGBTQIA+ canon to present some of our favorite queer-focused listens of all time. Truly great literature can foster a sense of belonging and the feeling of truly being seen. However, listeners on the hunt for the best LGBTQIA+ books out there know that finding stories about gay characters isn’t always easy. So, we’ve put together a series of lists detailing some of the best LGBTQIA+ listens available.

What listeners say about Real Life

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Not My Gay Real Life

I Loved this book, the performance and the concepts. The meticulous nature of the science, sex and emotions was amazing. When do we get the sequel?

9 people found this helpful

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Real Life

An honest story of the uncertainty and unfairness of real life and the traumas that get us there

7 people found this helpful

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I read this book for Kid Cudi

I didn’t know what to expect coming into this book. I started listening to it because of Scott Mescudi’s announcement of producing a film out of this story. The plot takes place over a single weekend, and as crazy as that sounds, the author is able to make it the most “real life” weekend. I wish I could write like this. I will definitely be reading more stories like this. I recommend everyone to listen before watching, the book is always deeper than the movie. I’m excited to see what they come up with though.

6 people found this helpful

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Is this real life? Really!

This book did not grasp my attention I had to force myself to read this book. I do not believe this book demonstrate demonstrate it real life one way or the other. I wish that the book had some substance. Substance to where you can grab hold to whether it’s negative or positive. I see no focus no direction in this book.

4 people found this helpful

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Masterful storytelling and narration

This is a strong story - the places, characters, events. I was drawn in immediately by the author's skills. I wanted to know more about these people and their lives.

This is a brilliantly written book. Brandon Taylor's pacing and variation throughout are beautifully done. the story moves well, great pace and details - and he is a master of drawing readers into key moments with a slowing down and focusing in on specific parts of a scene. I enjoyed all of this book - and admire his skill in maneuvering through important current events and issues in this book. I particularly love his scenes involving water and food; some of those places I reread/relistened to, as a writer and not just a reader - I know I've already said this - but he is a master of this moving in and out, speeding us up and slowing us down, writing through the body, heart, entire being.

I enjoyed the narration for the audio version. there was enough variation of character voices to know who was who, but it was not too much to be distracting. His voice is clear, matched the story well, good to listen to. very well done.

I highly recommend this book.

3 people found this helpful

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indifferent

Towards the end of this book the main character talks about being indifferent to something that just happened to him. That is precisely how I feel about this book. Indifferent

The Good: We have to start with Kevin R. Free. As usual he gives a stellar performance. He knows how to use emotion in his voice without making it too campy. The writing in this novel is beautiful. The words and description leaves nothing to the imagination. For a debut book I think this author has a lot to offer his readers.

The Bad: My biggest gripe with this book is the ending. If you are the type that needs a satisfying ending...or any kind of ending, this isn't the book for you. I honestly felt like we got to this big build up where the characters were going to finally make choices, like a person would do in Real Life, and then it just ended. And because the author has a tendency to jump backwards into the past to explain current characters, characteristics, or relationships I had no idea where the book ended was where it was going to end or needed to end. It felt empty. This isn't the type of book you can just make up your own mind where the story goes from the end.

3 people found this helpful

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The Title is Appropriate

Much like real life, this novel is beautiful, difficult, dark, and confusing. Taylor's writing style is very poetic and vivid. The characters are likable enough, though I found myself growing frustrated with how much Wallace fails/refuses to communicate. He is aware of so much, but the decisions he makes are often frustrating or self-defeating. I suppose I cannot empathize with his experience. He is deeply pained and faces racism and homophobia on so many levels, but he somehow still persists. He is both an aggravating and commendable character.

My biggest issue with this novel is that it feels unfinished. There is a climax of sorts, but really no resolution. The reader just gets the impression that things will continue, but definite decisions are made. The future of these characters is unclear.

For what it's worth, Kevin R. Free does a great job of narrating, and he did a good job of conveying the emotions of the characters in his dialogue.

2 people found this helpful

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Beautiful Challenging Book

This book will challenge many readers in its frank portrayal of northern racism and academic racism. But more importantly it will challenge our sense of relationships and what people need from each other.

Magnificently crafted in language, in pace, in rhythm, and all of that captured by a superb narration, Real People is simply beautiful.

1 person found this helpful

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Less is more

Very few writers write this beautifully, not just the prose but in how simple statements or actions provide the depth to understand the characters. A book about alienation, racism, homophobia and it all just spools out amongst a bunch of friends on a weekend. Best book amongst my last 20 or so listens.

1 person found this helpful

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Great prose, tedious plot

This story captures everything that is mediocre and tedious about gay life and academia. While the narrator does an excellent job at interpreting the tedious characters, the book does nothing to help me feel better about being a gay academic. I had to force myself to finish it. A complete disappointment.

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  • Nicky D
  • 11-15-20

Beautiful writing

An author to watch for me. The writing is gorgeous and packs an emotional punch. My first time hearing this narrator too who blew me away - one of the best for sure. The characters are superbly drawn and the dialogue is spot on. But the story itself lacked real jeopardy for me, and whilst the brief love affair sinks into predictable violence, I never really felt frightened for my man. Not sure I would have finished it if it weren’t for the narrator, whose performance was wonderful. I will look out for more by this author as he shows much promise.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Waggy From Derby
  • 01-08-21

felt the story was not complete

I wanted more from this book, I'm left frustrated about Wallace's job, how it turned out and about his relationship with miller

3 people found this helpful

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  • august year
  • 06-19-21

Garbage

Waste of time. Boring and the lab scenes made to give us a clue to the clever academic’s mind are banal: who cares about changing a slide under a microscope? Needless and distracting details that have little to do with the already weak story.
Makes me very suspicious about the race reviews. Should have read the Amazon 2 star reviews- very accurate.
This book was an exercise in how to alienate the reader and I would recommend it if you suffer from insomnia- it will put you into a deep slumber.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-08-21

Pretentious crap

Well that’s 9 hours of my life I won’t get back. Absolute drivel. No real storyline, just miserable people whining and navel gazing. Utter rubbish.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Alcidae
  • 04-11-21

Beautiful, well read story

This is about subtle biases, marginalisation, repressed trauma, making one's own narrative and being black, gay, less than perfectly slim in a Midwestern university. Taking place over the course of one weekend the story is delicately crafted and the relationship dynamics finely related. Quite sad although never heavy. The protagonist allows a relatively rare insight into social dynamics which makes it very interesting and engrossing.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Russell
  • 10-21-20

Extremely DULL!!

An EXTREMELY dull book with no real storyline. As it’s so short I persisted, waiting for something to happen ..... but it didn’t.
The Author tries to add shock value and interest by including an abusive background story for main character and homosexuality, but the events are so unrelated the narrative just becomes confusing & unpalatable.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 06-13-22

Brilliant storytelling accompanied by an equally talented voice actor

I really liked this book. It captures a feeling and experience all too familiar to me in a way that is poetic, powerful and highly original. Sometimes reading about other peoples mental turmoil makes it so you feel less alone and less wrong in your own.

The voice actor is brilliant. They get the story so the characters are really brought to life. It makes listening to this story even more exceptional. 10/10.

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  • Jill
  • 11-12-20

Just boring

This is probably important for young gay men but it is meant to be a story not just a series of vague descriptions and suppositions.

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  • uma
  • 10-27-20

Beautiful but bleak

Writing was gorgeously poetic and I think the narrator did it justice. The perspective on the world is a bleak one, so not one for a muggy, rainy week in isolation...