Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Slow start, strong finish.
I have to admit I did not read the blurb as closely as I should have, so I was surprised to discover one of the MCs was only 16 years old. I think I read “probation officer” and automatically thought adult. The fact that this is a story involving high schoolers makes it a little distressing, as it really covers some seriously dark and violent topics – I don’t believe the blurb gave adequate warning – that are not my usual cup of tea, especially at this age, and I’m sure that colored my feelings about the book, and this review. My ambivalence towards the violence made it difficult to really get into the book, but by the end, the author wrapped it all up in a way that made me think, ahh, now I get it! So, ultimately satisfying despite that ambivalence early on.
The story began with 16 year old Kevin Devereaux trying out for a summer production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. He’d never acted before, and only tried out because his probation officer made doing something productive during the summer a condition of staying out of juvie. Kevin was shocked to find not only did he make it in, but he was cast as Algy, one of the leads. The other lead was scored by Peter Finn, a 19 year old theater veteran who was everything Kevin was not – confident, good looking, wealthy – and the two boys discovered immediately that not only were they both gay, but they were attracted to each other. For Peter, those feelings came naturally, but Kevin had so many hang ups about himself that he had a great deal of trouble accepting that maybe finding a boyfriend really could be just that easy.
But just after their first meeting, just after their first kiss – Kevin became the victim of a terrible assault.
I have to admit, I was shocked. I just wasn’t expecting the violence. And then the reasons why Kevin was on probation in the first place, and why his father was in prison, also came out, along with the dark aspects of Kevin’s personality: his temper, his anger, and his inability to control them. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure what to think of him. I had a hard time reconciling Kevin’s sweet, shy, insecure side with his violent actions and thoughts. And I really felt that way pretty much all the way until the end last few chapters of the book, which kept me from truly identifying with the romance between the two boys until the end. Both Kevin and Peter grew and matured in significant ways due to the trauma they each experienced during the summer, and that character growth is what made this better than a 3 star read for me. There is also a wonderful scene with Kevin’s first exposure to other queer youth that was so heartwarming, and just gave me all the feels.
The way the author wove in quotes from Wilde’s play to reflect exactly what was going on with the MCs was very clever, especially as the plot of the book does not reflect the plot of the play. I was also extremely pleased that Kevin rarely fell into the TSTL trap of not telling people what was going on, or witholding important information from them – at least not for too long anyway – that I have seen in other books addressing similar topics and relationship inequalities. Peter also kept important information from Kevin at first, but revealing his true identity to Kevin seemed like it came at the appropriate time (and that was the only significant parallel with the play!). Kevin’s father turned into a fairly complex man who was able to truly understand and support Kevin, and was an excellent secondary character. The villain, however, was too simplistic, and Peter’s parents were mostly caricatures.
Overall, a really good book. And I’m very glad I stuck with it despite being a bit surprised by the age of the MCs.
Cover art by Aaron Anderson was exactly what the blurb should have been – a portrait of a deeply troubled young man.
ebook, 218 pages
Expected publication: July 2nd 2019 by Dreamspinner Press