Wrestling with Desire by DH Starr


Title: Wrestling With Desire
Author: DH Starr
Publisher: Rocky Ridge Books
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: Young adult, non-erotic
Length: Novel/ 300 pages
Rating: 3 out of 5

A guest review by Kassa


THE BLURB:

Derek Thompson is a senior, a wrestler, and has a secret. He’s gay.

Scott Thayer is a new student who has just moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts from Iowa. On the first day of school Derek and Scott meet and their lives change in an instant.

As Derek and Scott discover the things they have in common, they enter into one of the closest and most loving relationships either of them has ever experienced. When unexpected circumstances threaten their relationship, they both have to make a decision. DO they protect their secret and separate? Or fight for what they want…each other?

THE REVIEW:

Wrestling with Desire is a young adult coming of age story featuring sensitive, emotional teenagers exploring their sexuality. Now by this I mean the emotional and psychological impact of a first real relationship with raging hormones but not so much on screen sex. Considering their age and the genre, this isn’t too surprising and the two boys mostly kiss with a little groping and crotch shifting thrown in occasionally. This keeps the focus on the teenagers in their daily routines, which is both the strength and weakness of this novel.

The story revolves around Derek, boyfriend Scott, and to a lesser extent Derek’s best friend Beck, as they go about their daily lives.  The timeline is their senior year in high school and there are numerous scenes of the teens going to school, wrestling, hanging out after school, meeting up and mostly chatting about Derek and Scott’s relationship, parents, and basic events that happen in their lives. There is nothing progressing the story other than the characters and their repetitive lives – such is the life of a high school teen – so many of the scenes are the same. This helps give the characters a sense of normalcy, that these are genuine, regular teens that some readers may recognize and identify with.

At the same time it lacks any inherent tension and driving purpose. The scenes meander from one to another as the trio go to class, gossip, obsess about their relationships, wrestle, obsess about their relationships, sneak off to make out, obsess about their relationships, talk to their parents, deal with classes and so on. Although the characters argue, fight, and even break up there’s no real question that they’ll work it out pretty soon so that takes away any dramatic tension. Instead it’s just a matter of when the resolution happens and usually sooner rather than later. While I expect a happy ending since the story is a romance, the predictable tone to the arguments and resolutions are pretty obvious and not surprising.

The story does a commendable job introducing and depicting average teenagers with raging hormones. Of course young men with their first brush of true desire are going to be horny and sneak off to make out as much as possible. The fact that there are two dicks in the equation means they twitch twice as much. Some of this I admit is pretty humorous yet some of the prose choices were unfortunate. Repeated phrases such as “the tangled mess in his pants” just give the wrong imagery.

There are also some technical errors and pronoun confusion. The writing isn’t always clear which “he” the story is referring to. This is sometimes compounded by the slight POV switching. The story is mostly told from Derek’s third person perspective but every once in a while a paragraph will flip to Scott’s POV and then flip back to Derek in the next paragraph. Additionally the writing will sometimes infer some reason or thought process to explain Scott’s actions when Derek wouldn’t necessarily know that. A lot of this is covered in the pseudo therapy sessions between Derek and his female best friend Beck or between Derek and his mother. These conversations are incredibly adult, more insightful than I’d give teenagers credit for, and very formal. The prose used is often very exact and reminiscent of much more mature, articulate speakers than these particular teenagers.

Wrestling with Desire is a very sweet, romantic tale of first love. The teenagers are emotional, often prone to crying jags, giggling, and ball jokes but they’re also young and rather sheltered for the most part. The story shows the exploration of a first relationship in a safe environment with only a minimum of negative influences. Young adults looking for a story that will depict young gay men as athletes and not high school extremes, neither the popular kids nor the picked on, that they can identify with may like this quite a bit. I think the lack of tension and rather typical, repetitive high school scenes may not appeal to some older readers. Even though I enjoy the YA genre quite a bit this particular offering didn’t work so well for me. It’s decent and easy enough to read but lacks the driving force that compels you to read and want to know more. Every reader’s different though so choose for yourself.

14 comments

  • Hi Cole, thanks! I can understand what you mean about liking a slower plot. Character driven stories can be the most meaningful to be honest so that’s not a bad thing.

    10 years is a long time! It’s been a little over that for me and I don’t particularly want to remember that time *laugh* but I agree those in HS would definitely be attracted to something they can recognize and enjoy.

    I’m looking forward to your review of Meant for Each Other.

    Reply
    • hah, yeah. I forget that you all didn’t know me in high school. I was a total loner. So when I am nostalgic, it’s more towards those things that were floating around in my head at the time 🙂

      Not sure if I’m gonna review Meant For Each Other yet, but I’d like to. Maybe I’ll get it and do it after this week.

      Reply
  • Hey Kassa!

    I came back to read your review because I was looking at the book Meant For Each Other by this author. I can see what you mean about the slow plot. For me, I tend to like both and it all depends on my mood. This sounds like something I would have loved to read in high school. I suppose since it has only been about 10 years I still might remember those feelings well. I like to read stuff like this sometimes when I’m just worn out. Its nostalgia, I suppose.

    Great review, as always 🙂

    Reply
  • Meant For Each Other is out and a third book, Premonition, is soon to be released. The third book is my most action packed with thriller-type tension. It’s about a Boston cop who has premonitions and ends up having a premonition about his partner/lover’s death. The whole book becomes an investigation/race against time to prevent the premonition from coming true

    Reply
  • Hi everyone:

    I really appreciate the condor of the review and the discussion here. Wrestling was my first novel and, admittedly, reveals an immaturity in my development as a writer.

    Through work with my crit partners and deep work with my editor on my second published book, Meant For Each Other, I have made leaping gains in terms of the technical aspects of my writing which can be a distraction.

    In terms of plot, I think that Kassa is right. This book will be a hit or miss for audiences depending on their tastes. I tend to write stories which focus on the relationship and the struggles within relationships as opposed to action plots.

    Meant For Each Other is similar, although the main characters are adults and the book is a contemporary erotic romance which allowed me to get much more creative with my sex scenes than the YA genre allowed. It also addresses issues of fidelity which infuse tension.

    As with anything, practice makes perfect and I’m glad to hear the various perspectives on my first book.

    Reply
    • Hi there!

      I think you’re absolutely right that this particular book will be audience dependent. After I wrote the review I checked out Goodreads and there are several who really empathized with the characters and thus loved the story. I can see why. I think some readers (including me) need some kind of dramatic tension in some form to keep us interested and reading. I’m curious about your next book.

      Best of luck!

      Reply
  • I actually started reading this (before it was preempted by edits) as a nice change of pace from angst, and due to a recently acquired interest in YA novels. Now to find time to finish it, because your review has me intrigued.

    Reply
  • Kassa
    I was trying to figure out the major plot point of this book other than the characters wrestling physically and also with their hormones. What you’re saying is that there’s a sameness in this book and no tension, and I can’t figure out what the “unexpected circumstances” could be that “threatens their relationship”. 🙂 It sounds kind of boring which concerns me because I have another book by this author to review.

    Wonderful review as usual Kassa.

    Reply
    • Hi Wave,

      The major plot is really just a few months in the life of teenagers. The scenes repeat between school, wrestling, friends, etc. The “unexpected circumstances” aren’t really that dramatic, nor unexpected in my opinion. Scott gets a low grade in Calculus and is grounded until he can get the grade up. Thus his relationship is strained and they briefly break up before a happy ending.

      I’m not sure this is boring so much as repetitive. Though I certainly found parts of it very boring, I think the lack of any real tension is what killed it for me. Why keep reading when all that happens is more of the same? Even the break up is pretty weak since the reasoning is really immaturity and typical HS stuff. This kind of YA doesn’t appeal much to me so I’m not sure I’d read this author again in this genre.

      Reply
  • Great review, Kassa! I can see what you mean about how the repetitive realism of these teens’ lives is both the strong point and the weak point of the novel. YOu do a great job of making this clear in the review so that those who want this (and I think there would be a lot) can pick up the book and those who aren’t interested (I have to admit that include me) can pass on it. I bet the target audience, gay high school boys, would get a lot out of this book.

    Reply
    • Thanks Val! I do think gay high school boys who feel they are the middle bunch would especially appreciate this. The boys aren’t bullied very much and the atmosphere is mostly closeted but not very anti-gay. It’s very average in a lot of ways, which isn’t bad. I think it’s something others can empathize with if they’re looking for that.

      Reply

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