Rating: 5 stars
It was cold even for November as Josiah and Casey Daniels motored home down Foresthill Road and it was getting dark. So it took them a while to notice the young boy shivering by the side of the road. They stop the motorcycle with its sidecar and Casey climbs out to investigate, already knowing what he will find. The runaway’s lips are blue, his limbs are too thin, and he is wearing way too little clothing for that time of year. As Josiah watches from the motorcycle, Casey takes one look at the small lost, pinched face and remembers another day 25 years earlier. Once glance back at Joe’s face tells Casey that Joe is remembering that day too.
The year is 1987 and Josiah Daniels is on his motorcycle heading home to Foresthill, the ramshackle house on 20 acres he has just purchased. He’s just come off 3 twelve hour days at the hospital where he is a nurse and he’s bone tired. It’s so dark that he almost doesn’t see the young man shivering on the side of the road. He stops and climbs off, slowly heading over to the small figure, holding his hands out with his leather jacket extended and tells the boy to take it and put it on. It takes some convincing but eventually Joe gets the boy wrapped up and on the back of the hog and they motor to his house. Joe has found another stray to rescue but this one will end up changing his life forever.
When Casey first saw the huge pony tailed biker come towards him back on the road, fear was the first emotion he felt, and then despair, as he had no energy left to run. But the biker, Joe, just takes him home and feeds him. Joe gives Casey food, and shows him the bathroom so he can take a bath and gave him chemicals to use that would combat the lice on his body. And Casey waits to pay the price but Joe never asks for anything in return. Instead Joe offers Casey a home, a place to be safe, finish school, actually be happy after having his parents throw him away for being gay.
Joe’s solitary life starts to fill up with people upon Casey’s arrival. There’s Casey, the social workers, the dogs, and then the cats and Casey’s friends and so many more, year after year. For Casey, happiness means Joe as his crush turns into love as he matures and ages. For Joe, Casey means happiness for him as well. But Joe doesn’t want to feel like he is taking advantage of his position in Casey’s life, so accepting that Casey wants him as a grown man is hard. Harder still it coming to the realization that he wants Casey just as badly as Casey wants him. Nothing in their relationship has ever come easy and moving it to the next stage will take compromises and adjustments neither has had to face before.
Amazing, just absolutely amazing. Amy Lane has given us some memorable books in the past, and with Sidecar, she has done it again. Sidecar is one of my favorite books of 2012 and it will be one of yours too. Just looking at the cover gave me goosebumps at all the emotions it evoked in me. From the sepia tones of the drawing to its central figures connected by love and steel motoring down a forested lane heading towards the light, the tears started to well up even before I even got to the first page. And then the story began and oh what a timeless story is it.
Amy Lane gives us a love story that had already stretched over 25 years when we first meet Casey and Josiah Daniels stopping to rescue a runaway by the side of the road. Then we go back to the beginning of their relationship to that same road, almost at the same spot where Joe meets Casey for the first time under the same circumstances. I will tell you now, grab that box of tissues and don’t let them go, maybe get a second box. You will need them.
Amy Lane is known for her powerful characterizations and equally powerful storylines. Sidecar is full of people who will make you laugh and cry and shake with the repressed desire to knock a few heads together. Everyone you meet within are such fully actualized human beings that it becomes easy to forget yourself in their lives and problems. This story sucks you in and refuses to let you go, even after it is over. Each chapter is a song title from 1987, the year Joe and Casey meet. Lane explains that certain songs will always conjure up memories associated with them for people as I can certainly attest to. Songs are such a great way to bring back those times and places by making the songbook tie in with the locale. 1987 meant big hair, pony tails, Dirty Dancing, U2 and The Joshua Tree album. We had Good Morning, Vietnam, George Michael’s Faith and AIDS looming on the horizon. And then we have the lost children, those thrown out, thrown away by parents, by the church and others because they were gay. Amy Lane brings the plight of the gay kids tossed out like so much garbage home in the character of Casey and kids like Stacia hardened beyond their years given temporary shelter by Joe because it was the decent, good thing to do. I appreciate that Lane gives no easy answers to be doled out here as solutions. Yes, Casey makes it, but others in the book don’t, too emotionally and physically damaged by what they have gone through to survive.
There is also plenty of humor to go with the tears, from their dogs Rufus and Hi Hi Huxtable to the goober hunting nephew of Josiah’s. This is a beautifully balanced story, so the author will give you satisfaction to help cover over the unfairness, and something to smile at while recovering from you last sob. I am thinking of one scene in particular where Casey has found an old stash of weed and proceeds to get high only it doesn’t turn out like he thought it would. I won’t spoil it for you but it is a classic Amy Lane rollercoaster of emotions delivered in a succinct scene. Like I said just amazing.
There is not a single misstep in the way Joe and Casey’s relationship grows and changes either. From Casey’s early attempts to sneak into Joe’s bed and Joe’s kind rejection to the slow realization that Casey has come to mean so much more to Joe than he could ever imagine and the consequences of that love. And there are consequences. For Joe starts out dating women as he is bisexual in nature. Joe wants a family badly and being with a woman in 1987 would make that so much easier than to love Casey. Loving Casey would mean that Joe might have to give up his dream of children, a powerful loss that Lane makes us feel acutely. Joe gives Casey and a teenage date the “condom talk” in a way both heartrending and honest that hurt as I read it. Lane gives us firstrate entertainment even as she informs, she gives us pain and loss then gives us love and healing to counteract them.
It is also rare that we get to see our characters live and grow over a 25 year period to arrive safe, secure, and still so madly in love. Amy Lane gives that to Josiah and Casey and then to the reader as well. How much do I love them both. How much do I love this book. And to remember all I need is that cover and maybe Livin on a Prayer….
Cover Art by Shobana Appavu. What a remarkable cover, one of my favorites of the year as well.