Review: Hobbled by John Inman

Standard

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

HobbledEighteen year old Danny Shay should be having the time of his life, but its not working out like that. Now living with his dad in San Diego, Danny should be enjoying the summer but his own lack of judgement and outrage over his boss’s shorting his paycheck led to his current predicament.  He is under house arrest, hobbled by an ankle monitor courtesy of the San Diego PD and a cast on his leg, the last being his fault at throwing a tantrum at work and destroying an ice machine.  So now he is bored and lonely since his dad is out of town on business. Danny is also horny as only a gay 18 year old virgin can be by himself in the house, unable to leave.

But then the house next door is sold and a young man, a young cute man, is moving in with his father and dog and things start to look up.  Now if only he could figure out how to meet him without setting off his ankle monitor.  Plus there is a serial killer loose in the neighborhood  targeting young men, two fourth grade boys lurking around Danny’s house determined to be the next Hardy boys and the scene is set for riotous goings on.  When the killer targets Danny and his new neighbor, it will take all their wiles and help from unexpected sources to stay alive.

Hobbled is my third book that I have read by John Inman and it cements his place in my “must read” company of authors whose works I grab up immediately with nary a glance at a publishers blurb or jacket cover.  John Inman must either have vivid memories of his experiences as a 18 year old gay teenager or is able to channel his inner teenager because I can’t think of any author whose recent stories brought to life what it means to be 18 as realistically as the author did in Hobbled.  I just enjoyed this story so much that my usual quibbles with consistency and instalove are easily put aside.

If you know  teenagers, then every part of this story will speak to you, from the first feelings of lust and love (oh, the drama of a first love) to the unspeakable eating habits that seem normal as a teenager yet make you shudder as an adult.   Inman gets their dialog right too.  And it’s not just  Danny and Luke, his new neighbor, but two eleven year olds, (“that’s fourth grade”, mind you , they tell people in an instant), Bradley and DeVon.  Those two kids almost steal the book away from Danny and Luke.  Bradley and DeVon are Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and the Hardy Boys all rolled into the two most intrepid, fearless kids you will want to meet, and then just maybe strangle when you stop laughing.  But back to  teenage eating habits:

Here is a sample of Danny and Luke chowing down at Danny’s house:

Wet like that, it was really red, Danny noticed. Much more so than it was when it was dry. Danny watched as Luke swung a bare leg over the back of the kitchen chair and plopped himself down. He arranged his silverware neatly beside his plate, since Danny had just sort of tossed it on the table, not caring where it all went. Then while Danny still stood there watching him, Luke reached across the table and arranged Danny’s silverware too.

When he was finished, Luke motioned to the opposite chair. “Sit,” he said. “Eat. I’m starved.”

And Danny finally expelled the breath of air he had been holding for the longest time. He sank into the chair, happy to get off his wobbly legs, and they both started loading their plates with all kinds of stuff. Potato salad, ham, pickles, bread, coleslaw, cold pizza left over from a couple of days ago, cold green beans that had been in the fridge for God knows how long but didn’t stink yet so they must be okay. They ate as eighteen-year-olds always eat. With tons of enthusiasm and not a speck of conversation.

.If you have ever watched teenagers eat, then you must be nodding your head in acknowledgement of the accuracy of that moment.  I know I did. In scene after scene, Inman writes realistic, goofy, brave, scared wonderful teenage boys These characters are funny, earnest, heartbreaking and always believable.  And I think that’s why their case of instant love is not only acceptable but in keeping with their teenage years as well. During those years, you fall hard and fast.  Love at first sight?  Absolutely.  A forever love found in under 5 minutes flat? You bet.  Its special that first love, its mind blowing and heart pounding, it’s everything, a moment and a person people always remember.  And for some, it does last forever.  That’s the magic of it, when you are young everything is possible and Inman gets that too.

And on top of being under house arrest, being new in San Diego and living with his dad, Danny is also trying to come to grips with the fact that he is gay.  Danny wants to tell his father that he is gay but like any other LGBTQ youth, Danny is having trouble saying it.  He is pretty sure that his father will still love him, but that small uncertainty is holding him back.  When hearing Danny’s inner monologue as he tries to summon the courage to come out to his father, you realize just how momentous this decision is and just how high the ramifications might be.  One more realistic component in an already marvelous book of self realization and coming out at a young age.

True, there are some aspects of Hobbled that normally would have me rolling my eyes as the events stretch the bounds of believability (especially later on with Danny’s father).  But all the good will and affection the book has built up just steamrollers over those sections, so that if you do find yourself making an eye roll or two (yeah, yeah I know), than it will be with smiles instead of incredulity.  I love this book and fell hard for Danny, Luke, DeVon and Bradley and even Mrs. Trumball.  I think you will too.  So grab a pizza, a stick of Cover Up, a Coke, and your memories of your teenage years, buy this book and settle in for a wonderful story of young love, coming out, and oh yeah,a criminal on the loose.

Cover art by Paul Richmond is perfect for Hobbled in every way.

Book Details:

ebook, 246 pages
Published June 10th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1623808561 (ISBN13: 9781623808563)
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.dreamspinnerpress.com

Review of Fair Catch by Del Darcy

Standard

Rating: 4.5 stars

It was Friday night lights and the score of the football game on the field was close.  Blake Thompson of the Mustangs watched and waited to see if the new Patriots field goal kicker was as good as they had heard. Then out came a slim figure, even in his football pads, brown hair caught under the lights and AYERS36 on the back of his jersey.  It was the first glimpse Blake would get of the boy he would play against and fall for.  Blake knows that he has to fight to play because of his height but he loves football, and his team.  And then he meets Alex Ayers at Rory’s Roadhouse, a local hangout after the game, a place the two teams mix, relieve stress and have fun.  That night turn’s into one of life’s game changers for them both.

Alex Ayers headed towards the sidelines after nailing his kick on the field.  It’s not hard to notice THOMPSON12 when not only is the Mustangs backup Quarterback doing a great job moving his team down the field but that he’s the same size as you are, a rarity among the humongous QBs around the league.  Alex is tired of moving from high school to high school as his dad follows jobs in the construction field.  He likes this high school, his team and wants to stay.  When the two teams hang out at the same place after the games, Alex meets and connects with Blake Thompson, the boy he saw on the field.  First there is a connection between the two boys, followed by attraction that they act on, becoming friends and lovers.  As the school year continues, two things are obvious.  Alex is already getting scouted by college teams for his kicking ability and as Blake is one year younger, he is the one who will be left behind.  The boys are experiencing so many firsts in their lives, including a first love.  Alex has never made a commitment before, his rootless upbringing making that impossible.  Can he now make one to Blake, the boy he leaves behind?   And how will Blake handle the loss of his football dream and the jealously he feels as Alex becomes a star player?

Fair Catch and Del Darcy deliver an insider look at what it means to be a gay teenager, and a gay teenager who plays football at that.  This is a long book at 403 pages but Darcy uses every bit of it to bring two very different young men to life in their struggle to come to grips with not only their sexuality but the restructuring of their high school dreams to include life’s reality.  I cannot begin to tell you how much I appreciate it that Del Darcy did not try to fit this journey into a smaller length book.  Blake and Alex’s story spans a three year time period in their lives from high school to early college. And as with real life, this journey from high school aspirations and teenage emotions to a older, more mature understanding of themselves is fraught with exuberant highs and depressive lows and everything in between.  Things are both deceptively easy in high school and hard as packed dirt to get through. It is through the characters of Alex Ayers and Blake Thompson and their circle of friends we once again experience what it means to be so young where high school was everything real, and life outside that framework was so huge as to feel alien.

Del Darcy an incredible job with the characters here.  They are everything that teenagers really seem to be.  They are full of themselves, and they are scared, they are sullen and timorous.  They are filled with joy, and lust, and yet filled with the need to accomplish big things, do big things, become the “big thing” for their families and themselves.  The dialog snaps with vivacity, rhythm and authenticity of youth as it flows out of the characters mouths. I can think of no other time in life than the teenage years when emotions and sexuality coincide with a person’s path to maturity with all the wildness and predicability of a roller coaster ride.  You know there will be heights to climb and dips to swing through but you are never prepared for the real thing, the real ride once you are on it.  Darcy makes all the characters here go through life’s challenges, the pain, the hurt feelings and makes us feel them too.  There is not one single character I  did not come to care for and indeed, with Dakota, I ended up going through boxes of tissues right up to the end of the book.  These people burst through the pages of this story full of life, laughing, crying, arguing, and loving. They smoke, swear, and on occasion show cowardice because they don’t know any better or because to do otherwise is even more frightening.

Think of the issues here.  What does it mean to be gay in high school? Should you come out to friends, and family?  What will happen if you do? Darcy gives us all parts of the coming out spectrum here.  From Blake’s family’s acceptance to the heartbreaking experience that Dakota comes through, trust me that boy will send you sobbing for hours. People are bullied for so for being slight of form or too quiet or too smart in high school, then add in a difference in sexuality.  It is no wonder that the high school years are such formative ones, carrying such weight with them into the adult years.Can you play football in high school or college and be out as a gay male? Can you expect to be given scholarships or a fair look by scouts, especially in certain geographical areas, if you are known to be gay.  I think we all know the answer to that is no.  But here in Fair Catch we watch how that plays out in a teenage relationship and the consequences that decision carries with it.

And what happens when one half of a new relationship achieves the dream of the other person?  Jealously is a tough issues no matter the age, and when a teenager has to face the idea that physically he does not mesh up with his dreams of college football? But the boy he loves does? Then it becomes even harder.  Issue after issue is brought up and addressed, but don’t expect to find easy answers here than you do in real life. Darcy respects that fact and gives us real boys trying to get through life in realistic ways.

So why not five stars? My only quibble here is that perhaps too much time is spent on football.  Yes, it is an integral part of the story but I think most people in the United States know their football basics.  But a little  less facts still would have left the foundation in good stead and the story a little tighter. Fair Catch is a wonderful coming of age, coming out story.  It is intense, joyous and downright heartbreaking.  Pick it up, and remember what it felt like to be a teenager once more.  Just don’t forget the tissues.

Interesting cover design by Alessia Brio.  Love the pigskin background  and the football equipment front and center.