Rated 5 stars out of 5
This young adult book focuses on Kalin, who goes by Kale, a 16-year-old searching for himself in that angsty adolescent time known as high school. He’s facing a mother who was downsized from her job and has no pretty much abdicated from her adult responsibilities, a dad who is trying really hard, and a brosin, Hughie, (“…by my definition, a person who is midpoint between an irritating brother and an annoying cousin…”) who is sharing (invading) his room. Kale is now a hippie, with dreadlocks that fall into his eyes, organically hand tie-dyed t-shirts, a vegan diet and a need to do “hippie things”, meaning he needs to find a social cause to embrace. He does this by joining REHO, Rights for Every Human Organization. It is here that Kale meets Julian. Julian has big time problems at school, mostly in the form of a huge bully named Sydney. Julian is incredibly smart, wants to be the best at academics so he can get a scholarship to college and be a doctor, attempted suicide and is now seeing a therapist. Julian is transgender, a female trapped in his male body, and he’s bullied unmercifully for that. “I have no problem with the world addressing me as Julian. In fact, I insist upon it, even with those like Dr. E, who know that, inside, I’m actually a girl. I want to be called Julian until the day I begin to live as one.” Julian joins clubs to make sure his academic resume is complete and one of those is REHO.
The story is told in alternating first person point of view of Julian and Kale and I truly appreciated that. I liked getting into the problems that both these teenagers are struggling with and how they are trying to deal with it. It connected me with these characters so much more. When Kale goes on socialactivism.com to find a cause I rolled my eyes at him. But it got us to where we wanted to be, REHO.
In addition to the trials of Kale and Julian, there is also the family trouble facing Hughie. He’s a sweet boy who was living under a bridge until Kale’s dad took him in. Hughie’s mother, “Serenity”, is a stripper and a truly bad mother. When Serenity (real name Mary Pat) wants to see Hughie, I felt so bad for him. “It’s like he can’t bounce back from the idea of coming face-to-face with his own mother.” Because she isn’t a good mother and poor Hughie doesn’t have that sense of belonging to Kale’s home and family. He’s like a sort of permanent house guest. He is the one who gave Kale the nickname, Crunchy, because of all the granola he eats in a house of serious meat-eaters.
Hughie, Sydney and Julian are in all classes together and they are all vying for the top spot of valedictorian. That is one reason that Sydney is such a nightmare – she wants to stress them both away from being able to snag that spot.
The one thing that saved this story from being an “all women are horrible” type is the volunteer best friends of Julian, Anna and Kandy. Thank Pete for them, because they supported Julian and they were evidence that not all women are horrible. Yes, Kale mother is not great, Hughie’s mother is awful, Sydney the bully and her female posse are the worst. But Anna and Kandy, along with Julian’s mother, are gems. Mama is so amazing, her support is what every kid should have.
As Kale comes to realize he likes Julian, he is struggling to come to terms with his sexuality. Is he gay? Is he bi? He isn’t really sure, he just knows he is coming to like Julian. He sits by him at REHO, and is stunned to realize Julian goes to the same high school. It’s funny that even though both Julian and Hughie have much bigger stresses and issues to face, I still was sympathetic to Kale as he tries to navigate what he’s feeling. Anyone who says the teen years are the best is delusional in my book.
Julian is attending REHO as he is facing his body changing even more into something he abhors. He is also facing the aftermath of trying to kill himself. “I still have soul-sucking nightmares about the day I tried to die – dreams about the loneliness, the anxiety, and the hopelessness that brought me to the point that I thought it would be better to be gone.” It’s heart-wrenching to know that there are so many kids who feel that way. Julian is his true self- Julia – at night and then has to do the difficult task of “…putting the boy back on in the morning after being myself all night.” He has to “…numb his body and spirit” in order to be what society says he has to be. But not forever, Julian.
Julian doesn’t immediately hit it off with Kale. He believes Kale is cute, but a poser. When trouble comes for Hughie, and he takes off, Kale gets some insight into himself and he doesn’t like what he is seeing. “Like self-absorbed…or insensitive. Or both.” And really, he is. As he comes to realize that “I’m the Walt Disney World Hippie Theme Park of teenage boys in Crestdale” he begins to do what many adults fail to do. Look at himself and realize he needs to change. “And maybe I have no idea who I really am, other than a guy who professed to be pro-human rights but who looked the other way at the human being in desperate need who lives in my frigging bedroom with me.” He’s only 16 but he’s going to be an amazing adult.
Kale and Julian are slowly becoming friends when Kale is hit with a revelation at REHO that he didn’t see coming and he handles it badly, mainly because he sort of makes things all about him. But it seemed a true reaction from someone who is struggling with their own identity. Julian has his mama’s support again and I wanted to cheer for her. “You chose the only path you could follow. And now, by beautiful, smart, and courageous daughter, I hope you will follow it with pride”. Jules has the strength because of that support.
The moment when Kale has to decide whether to do what is right, what is best for him, and what is easy was a great moment, even as it was a painful one. The ending of this was so perfect, sweet and YA and lovely. This coming of age story isn’t incredibly angsty, despite some very serious themes, but it’s a story of growth and I thought it was just right.
The cover, by Aaron Anderson, is simple and completely captured the feel of Kale. The tie dye, the mushroom dreads, the sweet face – it all really leant the picture of who Kale was trying to be and I liked it.
Sales Links: Harmony Ink Press | Amazon – no links yet for Amazon
ebook, 180 pages
Expected publication: June 26th 2018 by Harmony Ink Press