GLBT YA, coming-of-age, romance Harmony Ink Press (March 2015) / 180 pages
Warning: Possible spoilers
I didn’t expect to like this book. When you know at the start that it’s a romance between a Juvie offender and a kid with terminal cancer, and when the first-person main character sounds like a brat from the first page, it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm.
But I`m glad I kept reading. Brynn Stein surprised me. Russ, the violent kid who starts out whining about being forced to do community service after injuring his stepbrother, begins to calm down once he`s out of the Ace Katzenbooks house and in a bigger world with sane, compassionate adults. He develops into a young man whose empathy is sparked by contact with much younger kids whose lives have been plagued by much harder problems – severe burns, neurological disorders, cancer. And, naturally, one of the young patients, CJ, is a boy near Russ`s own age. CJ’s history is even worse—and, sadly, true to life—but who spends what energy he has acting as a clown to entertain the little kids.
It doesn’t take long to see that Russ is not exaggerating about his difficult home life. His homophobic mother and bullying stepfather are as nasty a pair as ever stumbled out of the Westboro Baptist cult. The saving grace in the family is Russ`s step-brother Pete, an unexpected ally.
The narration bothered me at first because the narrator’s vocabulary did not sound like a kid who had trouble in English class—but that is eventually explained because it’s the character speaking in retrospective, as a young adult. And that makes all the sense in the world, because there is no happy ever after for this pair, and after CJ`s death it probably would take Russ a few years before he could tell the story.
I`m giving this four paws – it`s very good, and high marks for including a character who is living with massive disability, but I think all of Russ`s school problems resolve just a little too simply.
Definitely a fine book for young people, and not a bad one for adults, either.
This review was provided by Ace Katzenbooks for the May 2015 issue of The Book Breeze.