Title: Changing Jamie
Author: Dakota Chase
Publisher: Harmony Ink
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Length: 184 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
A guest review by Kris
Jamie’s pretty much your average gay teenager. He’s not out with his folks, he’s got a crush on a fellow high school athlete, and his life isn’t perfect. It’s a good thing he has his friend, Billy, to take his mind off things, and to show him that all things are possible.
Billy seems to be all Jamie isn’t. Billy’s openly gay, he has enough money to follow fashion trends, and he’s got dates all the time. Lots of them. With older men. When Billy starts acting weird and hiding things from him, Jamie’s whole life seems to tilt off its axis.
His stepfather, who has never been the greatest role model, escalates his behavior until Jamie dreads going home. His English teacher assigns him tutoring sessions with the object of his crush, the gorgeous track star Dylan. Jamie’s not even sure he can talk to Dylan, let alone tutor him, but it’s impossible to talk to Billy about it. Billy’s too wrapped up in a very dangerous game they call bug chasing: trying to catch HIV.
Learning about Billy’s risk-taking nearly shatters their friendship, and forces Jamie to look at the world in a whole new way. Can Jamie try to keep Billy safe and still stay on top of homework, a new boyfriend, and keeping his step-father in line?
Honesty from the outset~ I don’t recall reading anything by this author in the past and my 15 sec Google search couldn’t find a site for her/him. Don’t you hate that.
First things first~
I really liked this book. REALLY liked it. I have to be honest and say one of the things I enjoyed the most about Changing Jamie, which can probably be said of my love for the YA genre as a whole, was it’s accessibility and uncomplicated nature. This did not make it ‘ho hum’ by any stretch of the imagination, but rather a good, solid read focusing on the main character of Jamie and of the story of his coming of age.
The first two sentences of the blurb sum up Jamie very well. He is just an average teenager dealing with problems at home, the pressures of his last year of high school and concerns associated with his sexuality. Life becomes even more complicated for Jamie when he is assigned as a tutor to his secret crush Dylan, who may be even more interesting than Jamie dreamed. At the same time his friendship with his best and only friend Billy; the one person who knows he is gay, falls into a heap by not only Billy’s treatment of Jamie, but the unbelievable secret he is hiding. (More on the latter below.)
Jamie is an appealing main character. I think he’s made even more so by the fact he really is just an ‘average’ guy to whom many readers will be able to relate. He’s a bit of a loner, a bit geeky, a bit freaked about people finding out he is gay, a bit pissed at his Mum and Stepdad, a bit scared and angry about Billy, a bit anxious and excited about Dylan, a bit worried about his future after high school, etc, etc. All in all, a bit angsty and dramatic – something which he himself recognises on occasion -, but really what teenager isn’t and don’t we all remember what that felt like! Therein, I think, lies the appeal of Jamie and this story.
The author has created a terrific foil for Jamie in the character of Dylan. Although he is not without his own problems, Dylan provides Jamie with a sounding board and a support mechanism during the turbulent events of the story. I really enjoyed the way the author was able to convey the strength and courage these young characters found in each other and in turn were able to take on board themselves. It reminded me that there are relationships; be they with family, friends or lovers, which impact you in big and little ways and can make you grow as a person. It was such a great response to take away from a book.
A couple of issues/warnings~
I’d never heard of ‘bug chasing’ before I read about it in this book. Quite frankly, the thought that there are a small number of gay men who, like the character of Billy, actively seek to become HIV positive horrifies me. After I’d finished reading Changing Jamie I did some online research to try and find out more about this practice. At the same time, I noticed there were a few readers who had criticised this author for not dealing with this topic in more depth. From what was admittedly only a small amount of additional reading I did, and without going in to too much detail, I believe the author managed to highlight several of the main aspects of ‘bug chasing’ including possible reasons why some men choose this path. Whilst s/he may not have decided to focus solely on this theme, to potentially dismiss Changing Jamie because of this negates the fact that it raises awareness in readers such as myself and in young adults. That is a bloody good thing, IMHO.
As indicated above, some readers may have problems with this book in terms of the various themes and points of conflict it touches upon. Yes, there were quite a few and, yes, maybe some of these could have been explored further and/or resolved less easily (for eg, the coming out to parents and later at school). However, each served to progress the plot and assisted with character development. Again, yes, perhaps the overall result will be too feel goody for some. Yet, despite this, it worked for me. I found this YA story very uplifting and was left with a sense of hope for, as well as confidence in, Jamie and his future. What’s not too like about that. 🙂
For those interested in reading a solid coming of age story with a strong HFN, I’ve no hesitation in recommending Changing Jamie to you.