I really hate to do this to a book, when it seems like the author had good intentions with what he was doing.
Coming of age tale : check
Poignant moments of self-reflection : check
Personal discovery of one's self : check
So what exactly is the problem, you ask? Here's the deal - every so often, I come across a YA book where I feel like the entire thing is written like it's supposed to appeal to YA readers, but is so out of touch with YA lit culture that it misses the mark. This is one of those times.
I suddenly felt cool as hell. "Yes! Momma's older sister. She's a hoot!"
Uh...no. If you just said the words, "she's a hoot!" you are, in fact, NOT cool as hell.
I can't even classify the book as Adult lit which just happens to have a young protag. The character voices are not going to match up well enough for adult lit either, since the male lead comes across as very young and clueless.
Where do I start? Can I start with Sam, the kid from Cali who said "Brah" 31 times? What decade are we living in, again?
Or do I start with Jake, the male lead, who calls his father "The Preacher," and is completely ignorant to life in general?
Or do I start with the "hit you over the head" life lessons which seemed like a bad version of an anti-bullying campaign?
I get it. The kid is confused. He was raised by a strict, conservative family. I'm sure that in some parts of the country (this would be the U.S.), people are so isolated from normal society that they are bullied into small town thinking and small town ideology. I saw that hideous remake of Footloose, after all (no, I was not serious in actually using Footloose as a real life reference).
However, the message of the story was so drowned in Jake's sheltered existence that it made me as a reader start to loathe him as a character. He was like a parody of a small-town kid, all fresh from the country and ready to tackle the big city! Never mind that he thought the Sikh kid was Muslim, or spent half of his conversations with other people trying to talk them into why it was or wasn't wrong to be gay, based on his Biblical upbringing. This kid was just painfully awkward - how he made friends was beyond me. He was at Columbia university, hanging out and having new experiences, yet he was SUCH A BUZZKILL.
"I don't know," I said, looking around. "How about 'Holy Cow!' or 'Gosh!' or just go with some deity no one cares about - like Zeus!"
He couldn't have just said that it bothered him when she swore by using the name of JC? What's with the "substitute" swearing cues?
Dude (yes, I can say dude. It's cancelled out by the amount of "Brah-age" going on here), seriously. I grew up in a conservative family. Even I knew how to not be an asshole when I was around non conservatives. For a story that was trying to teach a message of tolerance, I thought Jake was the slowest learner of the whole damn bunch. Even the strict parents were less frustrating.
Because guess what? No one wants an entire story of a person battling what's right and wrong in their head. It's called moderation, folks. A few well-placed chapters would have done the trick. Whining about your struggle to deny, then justify, yourself gets old fast.
It always goes back to my complaint about preachiness. Giving a strong point of view does not necessarily equate to having a plot. Apparently, it was a huge deal for this book to try and reconcile that it's okay to be gay and Christian at the same time because there might be some discrepancies in the Bible. Okay, so that might be interesting if the book was a research or non-fiction book, but not so much when it's plopped down in the middle of a coming-of-age story.
Too bad the entire 'new doctrine' part wasn't mentioned in the synopsis, or I wouldn't have picked up the book.
For me, I love to read books about religion and spirituality when they're marked as such, and I know what the content is going to be about. This book wasn't marked as such, and so I thought this book was fiction about a kid deciding that it was okay to come out of the closet...maybe because...oh...a person came along who got into this kid's head. Ya know?
So you decided to embrace your homosexuality? What's next, Jake?
I WADED THROUGH AN ENTIRE BOOK OF SELF-REFLECTION AND THIS IS WHAT I GET IN THE END?
This book provided from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All quotes taken from the pre-published copy and may be altered or omitted from the final copy.