A guest review by Leslie
Hoping further to expose the fallacy of “reparative therapy” for non-heterosexuals, writer Misha Tzerko enrolls in a weeklong program at the Stronger Wings Camp and Conference Center. He’s already lost a long-term boyfriend to the ex-gay movement—Robbie abandoned him for a straight life complete with wife—and for his own closure as well as his job at Options magazine, Misha intends to get an inside look at the ministry established by C. Everett Hammer III.
Misha is shocked and dismayed to find someone else from his past at Stronger Wings, a man with whom he shared two brief but captivating encounters. He knows he can’t save everyone in the program, but he’s determined to save Jude Stone… no matter what it takes.
This review was a challenge for me to write—I am getting that out there right up front, to be honest with all the readers here. I have recently read two books by author K.Z. Snow that I really enjoyed, so I was delighted when Wave asked me to review her latest, Jude in Chains—on the day it is released, no less! The subject of reparative therapy is one that interests me so I was particularly intrigued by this story. I was really hoping that I could come out and rave to the stars about it, but unfortunately, there are a few flaws which keep me wholeheartedly endorsing the book. But, these problems may be my issue and so I’ll try to clearly explain what didn’t work for me in this review.
The story is told from Misha (Mick) Tzerko’s first person POV. He is a writer for Options magazine and is planning an exposé of the reparative therapy program at Stronger Wings Camp. Off he goes, to a remote location in Arkansas, computer, cell phone, and tape recorder in hand. Imagine his surprise when he runs into a man he knows, Jude Stone, at the registration desk. Misha had met Jude almost three years earlier at a wedding. Although there seemed to be a spark between them at that time, Misha never followed up. Now Jude is attending a retreat, ostensibly to be “cured” of his homosexuality?
When Misha first conceived of his article for the magazine, he planned on going undercover, but when he arrives at Stronger Wings, he decides to tell the owner what he is up to, and why. For me, this was the first major plot weakness. I am not an expert on reparative therapy programs, but from what I have read, there many people who don’t believe they are legit, and thus the programs operate in a fairly secretive manner. Therefore, I don’t think it is realistic for Everett Hammer, when he learns what Misha is up to, to allow him to stay on. I think he would have very quickly shown Misha to the door. But no, Everett is fine with Misha participating in the workshops and interviewing the participants—the only thing he can’t do is attend the one-on-one counseling sessions.
Interview the participants—that was the second disbelief moment for me. Again, men who would be attending a retreat such as this are men who don’t like being gay and are trying to “cure” themselves of their “unnatural desires.” These are men who are very private (and dare I say, embarrassed) about their real selves and so I think the last thing they would be willing to do would be to be interviewed by a journalist for a magazine article. But none of that is ever addressed. A few men choose not to be interviewed but most of them willingly go along and share their thoughts with Misha.
My third problem was that the program itself seemed to have a lot of free time. Misha used this to spend time with Jude, getting to know him better—not having sex, just getting to be friends. While this made for some pleasant interludes in the story, again, I think realistically that these programs are designed to prey on the participants’ vulnerabilities by keeping them emotionally overloaded and semi-exhausted, packing their days full of various sessions and activities. I don’t think they have time to sit around and play checkers.
I probably sound like I detested this book, don’t I? But I didn’t. The writing is the high caliber I have come to expect from K.Z. Snow and the story pulled me in right from the very first page. It was after I finished reading that I began to reflect on the implausible and unrealistic plot points that bothered me and realize how much they weakened the overall story.
Now, maybe I am being too picky. This is fiction, after all, and maybe I shouldn’t be holding it to the standard of what a reparative therapy program is really like. But, since this was the environment in which the story took place, it seems important to me that the setting be presented at least somewhat realistically. Others may disagree and on that basis, may rate this book much higher than I did.
The strength of the story is in the developing relationship between Misha and Jude. While Misha is happily gay and doesn’t need to be cured of his “unnatural desires,” he still has issues that he needs to sort out. He touches on this in the story and in fact, I would have liked a bit more self-reflection on Misha’s part. Even so, it is clear that he is working on turning over a new leaf and having Jude as a partner will be a large part of that process.
There is very little sex in the book so readers eager for a smex-fest will likely be disappointed. There is a lovely romantic interlude (near the end) and a slightly over-the-top nude scene which had me chuckling. It came at the point where I had given up on believability so in that way, it worked for me.
To conclude—I give this a qualified recommendation. If you like this author and are willing to ignore a few plot holes that are big enough to drive a truck through, then you will probably enjoy this book. If you like stories about two men becoming friends and slowly falling in love, you will also probably find this a decent read. On the other hand, if you are in the mood for lots of hot sex or a true picture of reparative therapy for non-heterosexuals, then this is not the book for you. As for me—I’ve become enough of a fan of K.Z. Snow that I’ll just say, while this isn’t her best work, it was still very readable, and I am looking forward to her next offering, which I hope is coming soon.