Title: Enlightened
Author: J.P. Barnaby
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: Novel
Buy Links: Amazon   ARe

Rating: 5 stars

Brian McAllister is a 16-year old foster kid living in a small southern town. And Brian has a big secret — he is totally in love with his best friend Jamie Mayfield. Sitting through church services has made it clear to Brian that he is an abomination, set to rot in hell for his feelings. But try as he might, he can not stop himself from wanting Jamie. And although he tries to keep his feelings to himself, he is shocked and thrilled to find out that Jamie wants him back.

So starts the wonderful saga of Jamie and Brian, two teenage boys struggling with their sexuality in a small town and wanting desperately to be together. The boys know without a doubt that they must keep their homosexuality and feelings for one another a total secret. Not only are Jamie’s parents incredibly religiously conservative, but most of their town feels the same way. If anyone finds out, they truly fear for their safety. The boys are both underage (Jamie is 17 and Brian is almost there) and they must face another year at school before they can escape the town and move somewhere that there is a chance they can be openly together. In the meantime, guarding their secret means watching their behavior, making sure to never give away their feelings for one another. And even harder, it means pretending to be straight and dating girls so that no one suspects the truth.

Despite the challenges they face, what is at the heart of this book is the wonder of two boys falling in love. They are so earnest and feel everything so strongly. We follow Jamie and Brian as they first realize that they are both gay and attracted to one another, through the building of their relationship, both emotionally and sexually. Barnaby captures the elements of young love so beautifully. We feel their excitement and wonder at each new discovery, and at the same time recognize their fear and anxiety as they take each step forward. They are desperate for one another, and at the same time a bit overwhelmed by their feelings. It all comes across so real and genuine and is wonderfully done.

The story is told from Brian’s POV so we get to know him the best.  Brian’s parents were killed during a home robbery when he was three, and he has been bounced around foster care ever since.  He has lived in his current home for about five years, and his foster parents truly care for him. For the first time he feels like he has really settled into a family, and he is terrified of them finding out he is gay and sending him away.  At school Brian doesn’t quite fit in; he is always the foster kid to everyone but Jamie.  Jamie is blond and beautiful (at least to Brian) and is much more popular.  He family is very religious, and we can see him struggle with his beliefs and connection to the church, and trying to reconcile them with his feelings for Brian.  Both boys eventually accept that their love for one another is not evil, but it is not an easy process for either of them.

I don’t read many stories featuring young adult characters, but it did strike me as unusual how explicitly their sexual relationship is portrayed. It was interesting to me to see how this was handled, and I have to say I think Barnaby portrays it perfectly. The story really makes clear the boys emotions and sexual feelings for one another during these encounters, while never making them feel sexualized to me as a reader. Basically, it was hot because they felt that it was hot and their sense of joy, wonder, need, and love were so clearly drawn. It is a hard line to walk and I think Barnaby just nails it.

So yeah, I pretty much loved this story. Enlightened is the first book in the Little Boy Lost series. The first five have already been released and the sixth will come out this summer. So be aware that Jamie and Brian’s saga carries through the course of the series and things are not resolved for them in this first book. Be prepared for some angst folks, but it is totally worth it. I for one can not WAIT to pick up the next book and see what happens to these guys. So wonderfully done – a perfect mix of real life challenges and struggles mixed with sweet, sexy, lovely romance. Highly recommended.

Cover Review: Although this cover has the dreaded “three images photoshopped together” problem (and pretty badly too), I actually found some things that I liked. These guys actually look like they are in their late teens and match their physical descriptions well. I also loved the treehouse image, as that is such a key part of the book.