Title: Finding a Dream
Author: SJ Frost
Publisher: MLR Press
Buy Link: Buy Link Finding A Dream
Genre: LGBTQ Young Adult, M/M Contemporary
Length: Novella (79 pages / 23,000 words)
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Cole
Review Summary: A beautiful and heartfelt story about a bullied teen, who finds hope and safety in his celebrity idol.
Bullied and harassed at school for his sexuality, Dillon Davis can’t see his life getting any better, but he can see it getting worse. Depressed, wounded in spirit and body, he’s nearing a point of hopelessness, until he sees a picture of his favorite stage actor, Brandon Alexander, with his partner, Shunichi Miyamoto. After learning Shunichi runs a karate dojo, a spark of hope comes to Dillon of learning to defend himself, and most of all, meeting Brandon.
Brandon Alexander is filled with compassion for Dillon the moment he meets him. He knows all too well what it’s like to be scorned for being gay. He and Shunichi want nothing more than to help him, but when Dillon never returns to the dojo, they fear what’s happened to him.
Can a bullied teen find something to hold on to when he feels like he is drowining in hopelessness and despair? That is the subject of this novella, which deals with a very serious and very real subject — teen bullying. Whatever reason a kid is being bullied and even though some form of bullying has been around forever, bullying has become an epidemic in the United States (if not everywhere) with the advent of the internet and widespead social media. Dillon Davis is such a kid, lost in a school where he only has one friend, Angie, who is somewhat of an outcast herself, and being bullied by a popular kid whose taunts have now turned physically violent. His one bright light is his celebrity crush on Brandon Alexander, a Chicago stage actor whom he has gone to see several times in plays and musicals (and who, incidentally is brother to Jesse of the Conquest series). When he sees Brandon with another man on his arm, Brandon’s partner Shunichi Miyamoto, he is awestruck that his idol is gay as well and has such a beautiful partner. It seems like kismet that Shunichi runs a local dojo — not only can he learn karate in hopes of protecting himself, but he might just get a glimpse of Brandon. When he sets out to the dojo to find out of signing up for classes, Dillon meets Brandon and Shunichi and a beautiful friendship is born.
This story is told from two alternate viewpoints — Dillon and Brandon (with occasional POV from Shunichi). This allows us to look at the issue of bullying from the inside perspective of Dillon, who is being taunted, harrassed, and beaten on a daily basis, and from the outside perspective of Brandon, who after dealing with bullying from his father, finally found a way out and has pushed through life until he found the one thing that took all that pain away, his true love Shunichi. The friendship that forms between Dillon and Brandon is beautiful and allows us to get to know both characters better. These viewpoints are done in alternating chapters as we witness different parts of the story. The difference in prose between the chapters is done very well. When we are with Dillon the prose is written in the style of a 16 year old teen. It is somewhat whiny and self-recriminating, but that was a wonderful touch. I would sound like that too (and probably did) if I was going through what Dillon was, as well as it being the typical mindset of a sixteen year old. Conversely, the chapters from Brandon and Shun’s POV were much more mature and typical of M/M Contemporary prose.
However, the main problem that I had with this story tied in with these alternating viewpoints. What is the target audience? Before reading this story, I assumed that the target audience was towards gay youths. Yet, after reading it and also thinking of the audience of the publisher in general, I’m not so sure. The main reason for this is that during one of the chapters from the POV of Brandon there is a pretty descriptive sex scene. Maybe I am the perfect audience for this story? I am a 26 year old gay man who has dealt with bullying in the past (though, thankfully, not at the level that Dillon or Brandon had to deal with). The main problem with the target audience being for older readers is that the subject matter comes off here very preachy. This is a tough call, because normally, the preachy dialogue would really turn me off. But, I can understand it in this setting. For one, things sound preachy to a person who has already heard them, as I have. So I didn’t hold that against the story. Dillon needs to hear these things and if they come off as preachy, then what does it matter if the point gets across? Secondly, this is tough subject matter and maybe… maybe subconsciously, I really didn’t want to hear it. It is a difficult thing to put yourself in that place, or to even hear someone talk about it. That is probably why people ignore it. Because of those two things, when I finished the story and after I had been forced to look at myself in a new way, I realized that this story actually helped me to be a different, better person. If it takes preaching to me to do that, even if I don’t like it at the time, then is it really a problem?
I loved the characters here: Dillon is a lost teen but he never loses his compassion for others; Brandon and Shunichi both have a beautiful relationship that I would love to read in its own story; and I loved Dillon’s best friend Angie, who never failed to stand up for her friend and fight for him. I was happily surprised to see Jesse and Evan from the Conquest series here, even though I haven’t gotten around to reading those books yet. All in all, this is a beautiful story that though it deals with a difficult subject, it is ultimately redemptive and left me feeling warm and fuzzy 🙂 I particularly enjoyed the principal, Mr. Travers getting his comeuppance.
I recommend this wholeheartedly, not only for the story, but for the donation to the Trevor Project. Its a nice interlude into your day, a pretty quick read, and utterly enjoyable.
The royalties made on this book are being donated to the Trevor Project. To make a donation to the Trevor Project, buy this book or go to their website here.
This is also a story about how life gets better for kids growing up gay. To visit It Gets Better, click here.