Title: The Evolution of Ethan Poe
Author: Robin Reardon
Cover Artist: n/a
Publisher: Kensington Books
Amazon: The Evolution of Ethan Poe
Genre: Contemporary YA / Coming of Age/ Gay Fiction
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5, DIK
A guest review by Sirius
Summary: I really enjoyed this realistic “coming of age” story and really have no criticism whatsoever to offer
Ethan Poe, sixteen and gay, struggles for balance while his life conspires to pull him in many different directions. His parents are divorcing; his older brother Kyle is damaging his right hand in the name of purity; his best friend is a Jesus freak who prays for him to be straight; he’s desperate to get his driver’s license, but he can’t seem to get enough supervised driving time. He’s just starting to see light in the form of Max Modine, a boy he wants to know much better than he does, when his rural Maine town begins to explode around him. Against his intentions he gets pulled into a pitched and sometimes violent conflict about whether to introduce Intelligent Design into science classrooms. Friendships end, families are torn apart, and the school becomes a battleground.
At the center of the fray is Etta Greenleaf, an older woman who has come out of relative seclusion to run for an open school board seat against the ID proponent. Ethan’s developing friendship with Etta and her fearsome dog is ironically both a haven from the vortex and the unavoidable path deeper into it.
Always seeking elusive balance, Ethan finds his way through a maze of lost friends, new love, and the mysteries of tattoos and power animals, with help from quarters where he never expected to find it. And he gains something better than balance.
There are so many things I want to say about The Evolution of Ethan Poe, so please forgive me if my review will end up a little disjointed. I initially purchased it because I had heard several people talking about it very favorably on the Amazon boards, and then I heard several more good recommendations, but I only got to reading it very recently and decided that I wanted to review it.
I was blown away by this book. This is not the first and not the last coming of age story that I have read — and there have been some very good ones — but this is one of the most realistic. Ethan Poe, the sixteen year old narrator, is one of the most complex and interesting characters I have ever had a pleasure to read about. The blurb sums up really well the idea about Ethan searching for that elusive balance in his life as his life crumbles around him. I really rooted for Ethan, his family and loved ones to come out on top of the challenges life threw at him. I really enjoyed the fact that he talks as teenager would; too often, even in books I like, I wonder whether the teenager would really speak like this, not so in this book. Ethan is a teenager, but he is also a thinking person and I really loved his voice.
Even though there is a love story in the making for Ethan, the story is not a romance. It is about life, in all its ugliness, beauty, and complexity. Ethan’s sexuality is something that is on his mind for many reasons, but it is far from being the only thing on his mind and very far from being the only thing that defines him. As you can probably see from the blurb, the issue of religion is very front and center in the book, mostly because of people wanting to introduce “intelligent design” in schools together with Evolution theory. At the end of the book the author gives us the account of the real event which she used as a prototype for some of the events unfolding in the book, but surely she could have used other similar events I have read about in newspapers. Come to think of it, if you think that “intelligent design” should be taught in schools, you should probably stay away from this book. While I do not feel that the book demonises religion, it does not look at the idea of teaching that as scientific theory with support.
But even though I enjoyed all the interesting arguments about religion, what I enjoyed the most is how fascinating and complex all the characters were. I said that the book was not a romance, but I really adored how the writer gave the love story between Ethan and Max, the boy he loves, enough complexity and how she made not just Ethan, but the other boy as well, change and grow through the story. It is really interesting to see how nuanced their relationship is, even if it is a first, awkward one for two sixteen-year-olds. Oh and yes, they do have sex, so if that bothers you, you probably should stay away as well. The sex scenes are very inexplicit and infrequent though, maybe two or three throughout the whole novel.
And I have to thank the author for writing such amazing female characters, which I feel still a rarity in this genre (I know this is not exactly M/M fiction, but I am still happy). Ethan’s mother and Etta Greenleaf — these two characters are strong, interesting, but also vulnerable women. I really loved that they played very important and pretty big roles in this book. I thought that almost all secondary characters were well-developed and complex as well, but Etta’s dog, Two, just stole my heart!
Finally, I really loved how the book tells us about human beings who can do very ugly things, and can do heroic, noble things, and how people still can love and support each other even if they do not like everything about the person who needs their support. Note, the book is not an easy read; there are painful psychological problems to deal with (violence and other stuff) but it is also a very rewarding read, for me anyway, ending on pretty hopeful and optimistic note, which I always appreciate.