Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Ethan and Scott were best friends and boyfriends. All through high school they planned on this amazing cross country trip. They were going to see all the kitschy things together. An all too common tragedy occurs senior year – Scott is killed by gunfire in a school shooting. Ethan has to get out of his town because of the guilt he feels for still living and the sympathy/pity of people, even as he doesn’t want to do this trip alone. So he hits the road, promising his parents he will call them and will not pick up hitchhiker’s who might take him to a murder cave and kill him.
He’s driving on a stormy night in the dark and nearly hits a hitchhiker. Despite his parents’ warning, he can’t leave the man there in the rain, so he offers him a ride. This is Nick and Nick is running away from a ton of bad things as well. Namely, he just escaped an abusive pray-the-gay-away conversion camp as well as an abusive ex-boyfriend, Kyle. Nick has a painful history and he knows what it’s like to grieve for someone, having lost his little brother to cancer. He accepts the ride with Ethan and Ethan offers him the chance to be a part of his great adventure, seeing all the ridiculous roadside attractions they can see.
There is a moment when Nick admits he has no money to do the sights and Ethan tells him Scott’s parents had given him a large amount, probably what they were going to give Scott for graduation, and it just made me cry. There are so many shattered dreams here. Ethan suffers from panic attacks, which Nick handles with care and kindness. For his part, Ethan treats Nick with the same care and kindness. The two of them can be snarky and funny and I thoroughly enjoyed. The scene at the haunted train tracks just made me happy and made me think that they could learn to be happy again.
Nick has a seriously abusive ex-boyfriend in Kyle and feelings of betrayal by his parents after being sent to Camp Cornerstone, i.e. abusive conversion therapy. He was able to walk away from the camp only because he turned eighteen. Ethan’s gift to him really showed the sweetness of Ethan and the vulnerability of Nick. “Eventually it became too much, got too close to the place inside him that wanted nothing more than to beg for any scrap of care he could get.” Oh, Nick, you deserve so much.
Ethan sends text messages to Scott and he’s very afraid he’s doing the trip wrong. “I don’t know if I want my life to happen without him.” There is no shying away from all the emotional turmoil for these guys. They have to work through it and though they have different issues, they are equally painful and hard to deal with. Nick’s trip through Cornerstone is horrific and it is brought on by the abuse of Kyle. And Kyle continues to be crazy, abusing, texting and going as far as to call Ethan’s parents, posing as Nick’s brother, to get information. That’s probably the least of what he did but stalker, abuser and psycho cover it. Add in that Nick doesn’t feel worthy of happiness sometimes. He has his own survivor’s guilt.
The book doesn’t pull its punches on dealing with some serious issues but it also conveys that these guys are young and they talk and act that way, even through stress and grief. They are there for each other, through the biggest guitar and talking to the police, but they work through their grief and guilt on their own as well. Their conversations could be so emotional, other times so sweet and funny. The “lie to me” made me want to cry sometimes.
“But, mostly, I think we get so obsessed with missing someone, trying to stay connected with who they were as people.” That is so true and it was the lesson both of them needed to understand. Ethan’s grasping that Scott was really, truly gone was just heartbreaking. “Scott would have changed. He would have learned things, and seen things, and we’d both be different people now than we were when he died. I think that was the ghost I was hoping to find. The person Scott would have become.” And that’s what you really can’t find, because that person will remain the same as you remember them while you continue to learn things, to grow and to change. “Instead of keeping Scott’s memory alive, I was trying to get away from the person I was becoming without him.”
Both Nick and Scott, so young to be dealing with such things and yet they do, working their way through guilt and through grief, through fear, learning they can lean on each other. I was pulling for these guys to get a little happiness. The one thing I would have appreciated was an epilogue to show that they were still together, still happy and still working on it.
The cover art by Kanaxa light and fun. Which doesn’t exactly speak to the reality of the storyline.
ebook, 339 pages
Published May 7th 2018 by Riptide Publishing
ISBN 1626497435 (ISBN13: 9781626497436)
Edition Language English