A guest review by Jenre
I had mixed feelings about this YA contemporary which dealt with some serious issues tempered with a sweet romance.
Shawn Graham and Bobby Wilder couldn’t be more different. Shawn is a devout Christian fundamentalist from northern Michigan; Bobby is a street-smart latchkey kid from southern Ohio. From an early age, they are both confused and troubled by their attraction to the same sex. Shawn believes that homosexuality is sinful, and a traumatic incident of childhood sexual abuse adds to his guilt and shame. Bobby has an image to maintain and flatly denies the possibility that his same-sex attractions even exist. He’s just too cool to be gay. When they finally connect, their preconceptions are suddenly dwarfed by what they feel for each other.
They become inseparable and fall deeply in love; however, love doesn’t make life easy. Plans are in motion that will surely devastate the young couple. Painful experiences of the past overshadow happy memories, and heartbreaking obstacles loom over the possibility of a future. If Shawn and Bobby want to stay together, they will have to fight with everything they have.
I was attracted to this book because one of the characters is a devout Christian and I wanted to see how that would be handled in an m/m love story. In the end that aspect was done well, with a balanced view of both sides of the argument from both conservative and liberal Christians, but there were other parts of the book – mainly to do with the structure and the writing – which didn’t work as well for me.
Shawn has been a Christian all his life. He embodies the stereotype of a devout young man in that he is gentle and kind, always seeking the good in others and working hard at school and at church. However, as he gets older Shawn begins to realise that he’s possibly gay and that leads to much confusion and self hatred, especially when coupled with other things that have happened to him in the past. When Shawn meets bad boy Bobby, who is almost the complete opposite of Shawn in the way he lives his life, there’s a powerful attraction between them and nothing is going to stand in the way of their love. Or so they think…
I found whilst reading this book that my feelings towards it would veer from one extreme to the other. In terms of the writing and the way the story was structured, it was very simplistic and lacking in subtlety. For example, the story follows a strict linear pattern beginning when Shawn is 5 and then following alternating viewpoints between Shawn and Bobby as they grow up and become teenagers. More often than not, we are told the story rather than shown. There’s no withholding of information, no leaving the reader in suspense (except by breaking off the viewpoints at a cliffhanger and moving onto the next viewpoint), no use of subtle body language and action. Everything is in words, either the thoughts of the characters, the dialogue between them or the omniscient narrator telling the story of these boys’ lives. In addition to this, the reader is often told the same information over and over again at various points of the book which annoyed me as I don’t need to be retold something I learned earlier in the book. The simplistic structure and style of the book was a little dull, and irritating at times and at several points in the book I found myself getting a bit bored.
Having said that, just as I was getting bored, the author would hit me with what he does best – writing gripping, emotional scenes. There were several points in the book where something dramatic would happen, often involving Shawn, and I would be thoroughly engrossed in the story and what was happening to him. I was, at times, horrified, tearful and overwrought by what was happening on the page, and each time this happened I was amazed at how easily the story played on my emotions and how caught up in the events I had become.
The characters themselves, especially Shawn and Bobby, were very well rounded, especially as we really get to grips with their thoughts and feelings. Shawn is perhaps a little too perfect, and I sometimes found it hard to believe the depth of his self-loathing given that he has so much affirmation in his life. Out of the two heroes I liked Bobby best, and I thought the author did a good job in showing the circumstances that led to the young man that Bobby becomes. I also liked the positive influence that Shawn has on Bobby, and the way they click easily together and become firm friends. The love between them grows quickly, but given their age and personalities I could see that being a realistic turn of events.
This brings me to something which may be off-putting to some readers: The age of the heroes. They are 15, and the book does contain explicit sex, although written quite subtly. It didn’t bother me, because I know full well that 15/16 year olds have consensual sex with those they fall in love with (in fact my best friend at school was having sex with her boyfriend at that age), but I can see how that may not appeal to all readers, so it’s worth mentioning.
So, as you can see, I had mixed feelings about the book. I liked the characters, and even the secondary characters were fully realised, but found the structure of the book clunky. The emotional content was riveting but the repetition and the telling rather than showing, meant that parts of the book were also quite dull at times. If you’re a fan of Jeff Erno’s books then I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in this one, although it’s nowhere near as good as his Puppy Love books, which I would recommend over this one for anyone who wants to try this author.