Title: Symbols
Author: Mario Kai Lipinski
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: May 29, 2017
Genre(s): Young Adult Romance
Page Count: 350
Reviewed by: CrabbyPatty
Heat Level: 3 flames out of 5
Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5


Violence is hard to escape because of the scars it leaves—on the body, the mind, and the heart.

Small, skinny, and timid, Matt is the school’s punching bag. He suffers in silence and holds no hope anyone will come to his aid. The last thing on his mind is finding someone special. He’s sure it’s impossible, so why bother trying?

Shane is no stranger to pain. At his old school, he broke a football player’s arms for tormenting his friend, and with his size and multiple tattoos, he looks every bit the thug everyone—Matt included—assumes he is.

Building trust isn’t easy, but a sweet yet passionate romance slowly unfolds. Their road isn’t without bumps, but Matt and Shane navigate them together, finding happiness and security in each other—until another act of violence and its aftermath threatens to tear their lives—and their love—apart once and for all. But like the symbols etched into Shane’s skin, some things are made to last.

Small, slender Matt (105 pounds, perhaps around 5 feet tall) has been unmercifully bullied for most of his school years and when Symbols begins, Matt spends his days trying to escape notice, moving throughout the school by less-traveled corridors, always walking in fear. Matt’s frame of mind is described in heart wrenching detail – his coping mechanisms, the hiding, the escaping into himself, the abject terror he feels every day in school. The first time Matt spots Shane McAllister – a heavily-muscled 260 lb. 6′ 8″ tattooed guy with a facial scar – he thinks: “That guy was capable of tearing a heart out and laughing as it still beat in his hand.”

I like how we get Matt and Shane’s POV throughout the story, and while Shane inspires fear in Matt, “Shane had always been a sucker for the small type, and soft features like [Matt]’s crawled under his skin …” Within a day of meeting Matt, Shane has vowed to befriend and protect him. I really liked the slow unfurling of Matt’s fear and his growing trust in Shane.

This muscled giant with the colorful tattoos and the scar that ran down his cheek was a boy like him. Perhaps he was a lion that sought Matt’s life. Maybe he was a knight in shining armor. But at his core, he was just a boy with problems and issues just like his.

Around the 50% point, Symbols was in my 4 star range. But as the story progresses, it grows more convoluted and implausible. The following spoiler contains a lot of information about the plot and events in the second half of the book … you have been warned.

Shane and Matt are attacked by an older woman on the train, who disapproves of them kissing, saying “You may think of the Nazis however you want, but they knew how to deal with scum like you.” (??? WTH???) As Matt and Shane grow closer, there is lots and lots and lots of commentary about Shane’s beast and “Matt’s own beast—okay, baby beast” and honestly, the constant references to their size differential sort of creeped me out. Shane is arrested and brought into police custody for severely beating Matt, who is in hospital in a coma. There is a bizarre police interrogation where a detective chains Shane to a table and accuses him of the assault, Matt’s chief bully Iain (who is described as almost a budding psychopath at the start of the book) is enlisted by Shane to help find the attacker and the resolution of the crime – and Matt’s decision to not press charges – just seemed too implausible.

I enjoyed the first half of Symbols and the love between Shane and Matt and rather liked the author’s writing style, but the last half of the book and the series of implausible events dramatically lowered my rating. I read (and liked) Perception by the same author and while Symbols shares some of the same characteristics – older students (Shane is 19; Matt is 18) in a high school setting, first love and bullying – there is just too much improbable drama in Symbols. 2.5 stars.

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Advanced Review Copy

Galley copy of Symbols provided by Dreamspinner Press in exchange of an honest review.


Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.  Frederick Douglas

I distinctly remember that day in school when, all of a sudden, those squiggles on the page made sense and I could read. It has changed my life in ways I still cannot comprehend.

My favorite M/M tropes are friends-to-lovers, murder/mysteries, amnesia, hurt/healing and historicals. Shifters, vampires, paranormal? Meh … not in my wheelhouse, but I’m a sucker for a well-written well-plotted book, no matter the genre.

Favorite authors includes Brandon Witt, Rick R. Reed, Abigail Roux, Jay Northcote, JL Merrow, KJ Charles, Lane Hayes, Marshall Thornton and so many more.

A few “badges” from NetGalley:
100 Book Reviews Reviews Published Professional Reader

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