Title: Raise It Up
Author: Nick Wilgus
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Release Date: August 8, 2017
Genre(s): Young Adult
Page Count: 350
Reviewed by: CrabbyPatty
Heat Level: 1 flames out of 5
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5
Secrets can only stay buried for so long before they poison everything. But dragging them into the light is never easy—and it isn’t something Cyrus Hood can do alone.
Amidst the atmosphere of suspicion brought on by the Cold War, Cyrus struggles to keep a lid on his family’s dark secrets, like the reason for his little brother, Charlie, being “not right in the head” and his father’s drinking, conspiracy theories, and abuse. While trying to hold together a family hell-bent on tearing itself apart, Cyrus is also discovering things within himself he can’t divulge—like his attraction to his best friend Oliver. Yet it might be Oliver who stands with Cyrus when Cyrus is at his most lost and vulnerable, and it might be Oliver to show him that no matter how many times life knocks you down, love can raise you up again.
Raise It Up is set in a small Michigan town in the fall of 1980. Ronald Reagan will be assuming office soon and Bob Seger’s Night Moves and Rod Stewart’s Da Ya Think I’m Sexy still get a lot of radio play. To Cyrus (Cee Cee) Hood’s parents, Reagan will usher in the One World Government, signaling The End Times. His deeply Catholic mother hates all the Vatican II changes and his father is a firm believer that the Holocaust never happened. But as Cee Cee thinks: “Whether all of it was true or not—well, I had never thought about it. How could it not be true?” We sometimes forget just how isolated people were in the no-so-long-ago past and how easy it was to exist in a bubble of your beliefs.
15-year-old Cyrus’ mother has just died, his father is an alcoholic, his older brother George is working to save money to get the hell away from home, 11-year-old Charlie is mentally disabled, little Kay Kay is eight, and Cee Cee feels like he is desperately trying to fight against a raging current. Add in child abuse, child neglect and mental illness and this story just rip your heart out bit by bit:
Weren’t your mom and dad supposed to take care of you? How could they let you down so badly? How could you survive, knowing you couldn’t count on them, knowing when you needed them the most, they wouldn’t be there?
Yet … Cee Cee loves his Daddy, loves and cares for Charlie and Kay Kay and tries to keep his family together, all the while knowing that no matter how hard to tries to be a good person, he himself is going to burn in hell for being gay; but when Oliver Kowski, the cutest boy in school, tells Cee Cee he think he’s beautiful and he loves him, it’s an unexpected lifeline.
What follows is a story that could have been maudlin or contrived, but Wilgus crafts together something so beautiful and yet so intensely devastating. This book brought tears to my eyes (and more than a few bouts of sobbing) but Cee Cee and Charlie now live in my head and in my heart. I need to know how Cee Cee’s life turns out, I want him to find true love and happiness, I want him to sing “You Are My Sunshine” over and over again to Charlie, telling him how much he is loved. 5+ stars for Raise It Up.