It Should Have Been You

ItShouldHaveBeenYouTitle: It Should Have Been You
Author: Michael Murphy
Cover Artist: Paul Richmond (Art by Michael Breyette)
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy Link:  Buy Link It Should Have Been You, Dreamspinner Press
Genre: M/M Contemporary
Length: Novel
Rating: 2.5 stars

A Guest Review by Sammy

Review Summary: A shocking true story that suffered from fictionalization.

Blurb: After a hit-and-run driver kills David McCleary, his mother, Frieda McCleary, tells her younger son, Patrick, “It should have been you.” While the McCleary family limps along for a while, it clearly died with David. In an effort to deal with her son’s death, Frieda joins a fundamentalist church while her family watches her become a stranger. When she discovers Patrick is gay, she is convinced he is the reason David was taken from her. Patrick’s father runs interference, but when he leaves town for work, she throws Patrick out onto the streets.

As a blond-haired, blue-eyed sixteen-year-old kid from the suburbs, Patrick has lived a sheltered life and doesn’t have a clue how to survive on his own. He’s struggling until he meets a local priest running a homeless shelter who introduces Patrick to Juan, a street-savvy Latino youth wise beyond his years, and they strike up an instant rapport.

It’s not pretty, but they’re making it together, until one night Juan goes off with a stranger to earn a few bucks… and doesn’t come back. Patrick is determined to find him, regardless the danger and cost.

Review: I sincerely am at a loss as to how to review this novel. There is at the beginning a disclaimer by the author saying that the story is based on a true story; that, in fact, he altered names and changed the ending to a more hopeful one because the reality was far worse. I will be blunt with you, had there been no disclaimer this review would have began by telling you that this story was just too unbelievable. However, given that this is actually based on a true story, I must take a very different approach. I am not basing the rating of this novel on the reality factor. I can’t–not given that these people did indeed exist in the real world. Instead, I am going to talk about the writing style and tell you what worked for this novel and what didn’t. So, let’s get to it.

What the blurb does not tell you:

Patrick McCleary’s life became a living hell practically overnight. After his mother, who systematically blamed Patrick for just about anything and everything that went wrong, both before and after her other son David’s death, goes completely off the deep end and embraces fanatical religion she abandons both Patrick and his father. Patrick’s father makes feeble attempts to guard his son against his wife’s madness but seems to literally give up, embraces an affair with another woman and then literally disappears overnight. Patrick who was living on his father’s credit card, discovers one day that the credit card has been denied, he is now homeless and his mother refuses to have anything more to do with him. This young man then goes through a series of weak and ineffective adult interactions from the school principal to the guidance counselor and no one–NO ONE helps him. Given that the author states that this story took place 30 years ago, I must assume that things were very different in the world of Child Protective Services in the 1980’s.

He literally begins living on the street, turning tricks to survive with the blessing of the local priest who introduces him to older men who talk to him about safe sex and condoms. It was at this point that a bizarre story line turned completely crazy in my opinion. But this was true–a true story, and as it unfolded I found myself just dumbfounded at the life this boy was forced to live.

What worked in this story:

This is difficult. You see, the plot was so unbelievable…yet it was true. So, in turn, it was hard to find things that seemed to work here. I will say that I found Patrick to be remarkable. His ability to continually bounce back from one major hit after another was commendable. He was a sweet boy and it was heartbreaking that no one wanted him–that his parents could so cavalierly toss him aside. My heart broke for him.

I also understood the priest and his role in the story.  While I found him to be ineffectual at truly helping Patrick, he, nonetheless, tried his best to keep him safe by providing a place for Patrick to sleep and at least one meal a day. I appreciated that the author took the time to point out that while the parishioners tolerated the homeless shelter in the basement of their church, they were reluctant to support it financially. Therefore, Father Tom’s struggle to keep the shelter afloat was very realistic and a solid addition to the story.

Where the story derailed…

Beyond the idea that a young 16-year old boy could be turned away by his parent’s, his school, the local police and, in the end, left to make his way whoring himself out on the street with the turning of a blind eye by the local priest, I also felt there were a few glaring problems with the plot line overall.

First, there were the hints that Patrick had been drinking for a few years, carries a false ID and his brother aids and abets him. This plot point was introduced early on and then simply dropped. Why did we need to know this when we literally never saw Patrick take a drink? Were we to infer that he really was a “bad kid” and therefore somehow deserved what befell him? It just made no sense to have this brought out in the early chapters of the novel and then never addressed again.

Then there was the matter of Patrick running into a friend of David’s at the basketball court. It turns out that this friend Kevin is a college age student and also gay. He commiserates with Patrick about David’s death and both boys end up admitting, after just a few minutes of chatting, to a mutual attraction. Kevin immediately refuses the idea of doing anything with Patrick due to him being underage but at the end of their encounter he gives Patrick his full name and where he lives.

Now, later in the novel when Patrick is trying to make it on the streets I kept thinking to myself–call Kevin–go see Kevin–he might be able to help–why was Kevin even introduced into the story if he was never going to be seen again? Why have that moment when Patrick asks for and receives his address if not to use it later when he was in trouble–homeless? It simply didn’t make sense. Kevin became just some random scene, certainly not integral to the story and definitely not important–so why have that encounter at all?

Finally the idea that Father Tom would introduce Patrick to a man who would teach him about safe sex on the streets. Not only that, Father Tom Introduced the man and then left–leaving Patrick there alone with a perfect stranger. Plus the man was teaching Patrick about safe gay sex–and the man was straight. So, this heterosexual man knew all about anal intercourse? I was so confused by this scene. Later when young Juan gave Patrick further details about selling himself to men I could understand where and why this Juan giving {Patrick safe sex pointers ft into the story. Here was a fellow street kid, a gay street kid showing the other one the ropes so to speak but this encounter in the restaurant that was set up by a priest? No, that was simply way too farfetched and bizarre for me to believe.

I have to tell you that I truly did not know how to rate this story. The plot leaped from one impossible scenario to another. I believe that by attempting to fictionalize this true story, and give it a “happier” ending the author actually did the story a real disservice. I submit that this particular tale would have been better served by approaching it as it was originally discovered–a non-fiction recounting of the barbaric and horrific treatment of a young gay boy fighting for his life on the streets. Instead, what resulted was a disjointed fictionalization that was so unbelievable it left you focusing more on the stunning twists and turns of this boy’s life and tended to throw me out of the story by its sheer magnitude.

It Should Have Been You by Michael Murphy is based on the horrible truth that many of our youth today are viewed as disposable–particularly those who are gay. While I truly applaud Mr. Murphy for attempting to bring this sad fact to light and expose it for what it is–tragic–I cannot help but say that this novel missed the mark in many ways. Unfortunately, I think this is one story that should not have been made into fiction. Instead, I wish Mr, Murphy had used his good writing skills to give us a non-fiction novel that carried more impact with the retelling.

OVERALL

2 comments

  • Your review was spot on but, I can only remark up until the priest introduced Patrick to the man in the diner and left him there with a complete stranger, after that it was DNF . I just couldn’t take any more or believed this was actually a true story no matter how he tried to give it a happy ending.

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A mature woman, gracefully growing older, who lives with 12 cats and talks to imaginary people--had ya going there for a minute didn't I? I am an avid lover of all things m/m who delights in occasionally teasing Wave!
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