Title: The Red Thread
Author: Bryan Ellis
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: September 2, 2016
Page Count: 256
Reviewed by: Vallie
Heat Level: 1 flames out of 5
Rating: 2 stars out of 5
After a suicide attempt left him hospitalized for seven months, Jesse Holbrooke is returning home to live with his parents. Despite the treatment he received, his depression hangs like a cloud over his head, casting his life in a perpetual darkness he can’t seem to escape. But just when the obstacles become insurmountable, a glimmer of light appears.
Life hasn’t been easy for Adam Foster, a barista with a bad stutter, but he keeps his chin up and tries not to let the mockery of others get to him. Though shy, Adam is sweet and romantic, and Jesse knows they could be perfect for each other. Adam’s support gives Jesse the courage to face the darkness and believe in the possibility of happiness at last. But if their romance is going to last, both young men will have to look inside and find acceptance—for themselves as well as for each other.
Ugh, I absolutely hate to rain on a first-time author’s parade, but I had so many issues with this one.
Mental health issues tackled within the context of a romance novel is a favourite trope of mine. I was hoping good things from this book after reading the blurb but, unfortunately, I was disappointed.
The writing style was melodramatic and completely over the top. Constantly. From the main protagonist being 19 but sounding like he was 70, to the directionless plot, it was just all over the place. The present tense, first person POV just made it worse. A few examples of the very stilted, weird turns of phrase:
“So how is school?” I inquire of her.
That was Jess talking to his sister by the way –a sister whom he is very close to.
“I proceeded to spend the next seven months locked away in a mental asylum.”
Asylum? Asylum? Really? What is this, the 40s?
The whole premise of the book was about Jess having attempted suicide due to severe depression. The entirety of his condition was reduced to mundane descriptions of “sadness” and “dark days”, over and over and over, juxtaposed with wanting to be “happy.” It is my understanding that the intention was to focus on the depression and how it affected Jess. And to an extent, I got that. Jess was not just a moody teen. He was suicidal, he did not connect with his therapist, and while his family was supportive, this was not consistent. Jess struggled to accept that he deserved anything good, including being in a relationship. He encompassed the hopelessness and helplessness typically seen in people with clinical depression. But all of this was not conveyed in an organic manner. It felt forced. And repeating the same words and their derivatives certainly did not help matters. The words “sad” and “happy” were repeated 58 and 133 times respectively. Honestly, if I had to read one more time about Jesse wishing to be “happy” and not “sad”, I’d blow a gasket.
The romantic interest, Adam of the adorable stutter and bow ties (I refrained from doing a count on the word “adorable) was just odd. Adam was clearly into Jess, and tried to woo him, but I had serious concerns about Adam’s mental state. Adam was supposedly 22 but acted like he was 12. No joke. Even Jess worried about that. Adam giggled and danced in his seat when he got excited. Here’s Jess and Adam texting:
“You like me.”
“Jesse Holbrook liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiikkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees me!”
So. Amongst all of this, there is a subplot about Jesse’s best friend who becomes an addict and changes his personality overnight –but changes right back a week later, a town that makes fun of the depressed kid and villainises him wherever he goes, and NO SEX. Nothing to make this a little bearable.
I appreciate the intention, but the execution of this story fell horribly short. I want to root for books choosing to explore harder storylines, like this one, so I hope the author keeps at it and gets it right in future books.
But this one, I’m afraid I cannot recommend.