Buy Link: The Zero Knot
Author: K.Z. Snow
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
It is the summer after high school and 18-year-old Jess Bonner is starting to realize he is changing and growing and perhaps moving past some of his childhood friends and activities. He is also realizing that he has strong feelings for his long-time friend Dylan “Mig” Finch. Dylan shares Jess’ feelings of growing past his childhood friends and interests. He has a full-time job as a well respected welder, but still lives at home with his conservative parents.
Jess and Dylan finally admit their feelings for each other and slowly begin to build a relationship together, starting from some casual hookups and growing into more. The guys are incredibly sweet together and their young love is just so lovely and inspiring to see. They have such earnestness and feel everything so intensely.
They are still young though, and still learning how to make it all work. Jess is being chased after by one of their old friends and let’s himself get caught up with Brandon briefly, something he regrets immediately. We get a sense that Dylan’s feelings for Jess are strong, and he worries what will happen when Jess goes off to college in January. And they both struggle with hiding their relationship because neither one is out yet.
Things finally settle down for the guys and love is blooming when something more serious occurs. We find out right in the prologue that one of them is arrested, and it takes most of the story to find out what exactly happens. Both Jess and Dylan need a lot of bravery to get through this and each shows he is willing to fight in order to be with the other.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I picked up this story. I have heard some people call it a young adult novel although I am not sure if it is officially classified that way. The heroes are both young men (although adults) and the themes of first love, finding yourself, growing up, and figuring out what you want in life are all well explored. FWIW, they guys are sexually active and there is on page (but not super explicit) sex, as well as some recreational drug use.
I really loved this story and found it so sweet and heartwarming. I met my husband at an age younger than this, so I can still remember that feeling of finding someone you care about so deeply and that overwhelming sense of first love. Snow also wonderfully portrays that sense of realizing you are growing up and away from parts of your childhood. That realization can be both exciting and scary and we see both guys work to figure out what they want to be and where they want to go with their lives.
The story really nicely contrasts the guys’ two families and different backgrounds. Dylan has a conservative family and is an only child. His parents are upset to find out he is gay and not supportive of him or his relationship. He is already working full-time, although not for his father because he didn’t want anyone to figure out he was gay. Jess is in a better place with his father and younger brother Jared. His father is incredibly loving and a great dad, supporting Jess completely and creating a warm home. And I must say a word about Jared. I am normally not a fan of the adorable and precocious younger siblings, but I just loved Jared. He is 15, so more of a peer to Jess than a little kid. Jared is the first one to find out Jess is gay and is incredibly supportive in his bratty little brother kind of way. And the kid is a riot. I found myself cracking up over and over at his comments.
“FYI, dude, I don’t care if you’re gay.”
Jess stopped in his tracks, spun around.
Red put up his hands. “Chill. I’m an enlightened guy. Live and let live and all that crap. I’m just bummed you’re not the best source for dating tips.”
Jess hung his head and started chuckling. Why couldn’t he stay mad at this little prick?
“You okay?” Red asked warily. “You’re not spazzin’ out, are you?”
“No. This is just so anticlimactic.” …
“So,” Jess said, “it was the magazines that tipped you off?”
Red sat beside him. “Well, duh. Dongapalooza.”
There are so many interesting things in this book I can’t cover them all in this review, but a few things really struck me. First, is the issue of being gay versus bi. Dylan, Jess, and two other friends grew up on the same street and gravitated together under the bond of being bisexual, forming a group they called the Domino Club. What I found fascinating is that Jess knows he is fully gay, yet coming out as bisexual is much easier for him.
So the Domino Club was built on a foundation of bullshit, basically, and there was nothing unique or meaningful about it. Plenty of other kids pretended to be ambisexual or omnisexual or whatever the hell kind of I’ll-try-anything sexual. They figured it projected the image of some super-cool Freebird who’d fly anywhere, try anything. It was a trendy game, not a lifestyle, and the players were in subconscious agreement about its outcome: sometime in the near future, they’d all be married with children, and they’d look back with varying degrees of shame or bemusement on their same-sex experimentation…
He still hadn’t fully come out to anybody. Being openly gay in small-town America didn’t carry the same cachet as being bi. It was riskier too. Declaring your homosexuality could put a target on your back. You weren’t a Freebird who’d soon be earthbound. You were an alien, and you’d never be anything else.
The second thing that struck me is the concept of the zero knot, a theme that carries throughout the book. A zero knot is represented as an unbroken loop. Even if you jumble it up and twist it around, it still goes back to a circle. Only cutting it and retying it can turn it into something else. As Dylan struggles with growing up and making a break from childhood he comes back to this idea.
Then he thought about what Tomby had said, that they were all part of some circle she called a zero knot, and no matter how its shape was altered, which maybe meant no matter what turns their lives took and who paired up with whom or which of them tried to avoid the others, they were still strung along this loop, bound together. The only way to change that was to break the connection, and the only way to break the connection was to cut the cord. A severed loop was no longer a zero knot.
But the zero knot is positive too. It is a sign of permanence and the power of an unbroken bond connecting people together and Dylan and Jess see it as a symbol of their relationship. This concept was woven so well into the story and it does a great job of tying things together.
I also appreciated how real Jess and Dylan seem. They are just entering adulthood and they make real mistakes. They still don’t really know how to communicate their feelings, how to act in a relationship, and how to control their hormones. They don’t always make smart decisions. They are not perfect boyfriends, or perfect people. In a book featuring older men this might have bothered me, but their behavior felt right for their age. They are just on the cusp of being adults and they are still finding their way and this made their story seem more realistic and their happy ending more earned.
One little niggle in the book for me. We find out in the prologue (as well as the book blurb) that someone is going to jail. I guess this helps to build the tension but I did find it a bit distracting, like I spent the whole time waiting for it to happen. In reality, I think this is a very small part of the story and I think it would have been better to have it unfold in real time rather than being set up as the “big event.” That said, I do appreciate how the jail issue was handled once it actually happened and that it didn’t become a long, overblown thing, but instead felt worked in with the rest of the story.
The Zero Knot make a big impression on me and I really loved it. It’s a sweet story about young love and figuring out who you are and what you want out of life and who you want to share it with. It was beautifully written and I just loved both Jess and Dylan. Definitely highly recommended.
I just loved the cover. The tone is just right to me. It just feels like the emotion of young love. And so pretty.