A Guest Review by Sammy
Review Summary: A searing coming of age story.
Blurb: They met at ten, kissed at twelve, and were madly in love by eighteen.
Caleb Deering is the captain of the swim team and the hottest senior in school. He comes from a loving home with a kind father and a caring, but strict mother who is battling breast cancer. Nico Caro is small and beautiful, and has a father who rules with an iron fist—literally.
One morning Caleb forgets himself, and he pecks Nico on the lips at school. A teacher sees them and tattles to the headmaster. The accidental outing at school might be the least of their problems, because the ball set in motion by the school’s calls to their parents could get Nico killed. In the face of that very real danger, Caleb knows he has only one mission in life: to keep Nico safe.
Review: In almost an episodic format author C. Kennedy unpacks the transformation of two childhood friends turn lovers in his novel, Safe. With each frame, the images of fleeting moments of friendship coalesce into a beautiful story of triumph and love that has gently emerged from a shadowy and dark place.
Nico Caro is an abused child. His alcoholic, domineering father metes out abuse for the slightest of infractions and for years a helpless Caleb Deering must stand back and watch it all unfold. Every opportunity he can, Caleb pulls Nico into his arms and the safety of his family’s home, knowing that ultimately Nico must return to the hell he so sadly lives in with his equally battered mother. Despite all the signs, adults stand by either blind to or carefully avoiding the nightmare that Nico lives daily. Counterbalancing the abuse that is seen but rarely spoken of in the story, author C. Kennedy sifts through the highlights of the last eight years of these two boy’ lives and calls us to witness the growing affection that builds between them.
Caleb’s own Dad speaks to Nico’s father on many separate occasions but knows that if he intervenes, Nico will end up being thrust into the less than adequate foster system where he may just endure even worse conditions. So time ticks by and Caleb and Nico become adept at hiding their affections for each other until an inadvertent peck on the lips on the steps of the school they attend thrusts them into the spotlight. Now Caleb is horrified to know that Nico’s father is aware that his son has feelings for another boy and fears that this time Mr. Caro will not stop at giving his son just a few bruises or a split lip.
Safe captures your heart strings and tugs at them relentlessly. Your emotions are bound up in the story of the frail and frightened Nico Caro who despite the hell he lives in manages to be a source of light and joy for his boyfriend, Caleb. I think the most impressive aspect of Mr. Kennedy’s writing has to be his ability to capture the voice of two ten year old boys and then morph it into the eighteen year-olds that begin and end his story. The slow and timid kisses, the tentative touching and holding, the slow building love these boys experience is laid out in such a realistic way. And with each step forward we watch them mature into the young lovers they become, their language growing more sophisticated, their sexual encounters bolder and more expressive, their care for each other growing deeper with each passing year.
While the driving force for Caleb is to one day have his Nico be safe from harm, in his striving for his character to see that be true, the author never loses sight of the fact that these are young men, not adults and that their world is highlighted by deep seated emotions and fears. The story becomes grounded in realism from their very first meeting and never veers from that path. Sadly, as in real life, adults who surround Nico seem unable to free him from his nightmare home life and with each passing year, the reader find themselves urging Nico to hang on, much like Caleb does, until he can be free when he turns eighteen.
The only question I had for this story was the opening and closing chapters where the trajectory of the voice changed and it seemed as though we were watching the story from afar rather than being immersed in it as we had been in the bulk of the novella. The shift from present time to past and then back again was a bit jarring and gave a slightly stilted feel to the beginning and ending of what was an otherwise strong and beautiful story of survival and love.
All in all, however, Safe by C. Kennedy delivers a tender coming of age love story that you will not want to miss. It s a gripping story that draws you straight in and carries you breathlessly along until the last page.