Rating: 4.5 stars
Abandoned is the second book in Barnaby’s Little Boy Lost series and it picks up shortly after the end of the first one. As these stories are told as a continuous series, this review will give away the ending of the first book. I highly recommend reading them in order (see my review of Enlightened, book #1).
As Abandoned begins, Brian McAllister is trying to recover from the devastating loss of his boyfriend and best friend Jamie Mayfield. Jamie’s parents took him away to San Diego following their discovery that the two boys are gay and sexually involved. Brian is determined to follow Jamie to California as soon as he graduates in hopes of finding him so they can be together once again. His pain at the loss of Jamie is palpable and ever present, and finding him is all Brian can think about. He is especially concerned not to have heard from Jamie and he worries something terrible may have happened to him.
Before he can go after Jamie, Brian must make it through the school year and graduate. Things are incredibly difficult at school, however, as word has spread about their relationship. Brian is bullied and taunted, most aggressively by Brad Mosely, brother of Emma whom Jamie had pretended to date as a cover for Brian and Jamie’s relationship. Brad is determined to avenge his sister’s honor and injures Brian at school badly enough to require a trip to the hospital. Yet the school administration remains indifferent and the only one on his side is the art teacher Mr. Barnes. The bullying doesn’t stop however, and one day Brad and his friends beat Brian to within an inch of his life, putting him into a coma and breaking many bones. He is forced out of school for months of long recovery. Again Mr. Barnes comes to his aid, helping Brian keep up with his school work and being there as someone who understands what Brian is going through being gay and bullied.
Gradually things settle down at school and Brian begins to find his way a bit. He joins a karate class taught by the school gym teacher, learning self defense and gaining strength and confidence. There he meets Adam, a young man from a nearby school who is also gay. The two train together, both advancing quickly, and becoming close friends. Things also begin to look up at home. After a scare with child services, Richard and Carolyn want to adopt Brian and make him legally their son. Brian is thrilled to be officially part of a family. He has always felt like such a burden to them that he is relieved and amazed that they care so much about him and want him as part of their lives even after he turns 18.
Brian’s life is finally starting to come back together after Jamie leaving and the bullying at school. He has a close friend in Adam (who would love to be more than friends), caring advisors in Mr. Barnes and his Sensi at the dojo. and loving parents. Brian has a opportunity to go to college and move forward with his life. At the same time, he still loves and desperately misses Jamie. He is spurred on by the memory of Jamie telling Brian never to forget he loves him. As his birthday draws closer, Brian is at a crossroads that will determine his future and must decide which path to take — go to college or go after Jamie.
I really enjoyed this second story and thought it was an interesting shift from the first book. Enlightened was so focused internally on Jamie and Brian and their relationship. The boys almost exist in their own world, so consumed are they with their love for each other and their fear of discovery. The growth they had was focused on the them as a couple, rather than either boy individually. In Abandoned, the story shifts almost completely to Brian and his life in the aftermath of Jamie leaving. We are able to see him develop the relationships and close bonds that before he only experienced with Jamie. I really enjoyed seeing him develop friendships with Mr. Barnes and Adam, discover his love of martial arts, and most importantly, finally find a real home with Richard and Carolyn.
This book sets up a really interesting struggle for Brian, as he faces the decision about whether to go to college or to California. Leaving for San Diego is incredibly risky. Brian works all year to save money, research jobs and places to live, and try to figure out where to look for Jamie. But despite that, surviving on minimal money while trying to hunt for Jamie will be incredibly difficult. Chances are unlikely he will be able to even afford to return home. And of course he has no idea what has even been happening with Jamie all this time. College represents a much safer route, and a chance to be with the small family he has built over the course of the year. But it also means giving up on Jamie. I think Barnaby creates a nice balance here, showing why both options are appealing and making us really feel Brian’s struggle to figure out which path to take.
I did wish this book moved the story forward a bit more. Probably because I am impatient for what I hope is Jamie and Brian’s inevitable reunion (although there are still four books to go!). It did feel a little like we were waiting along with Brian for him to turn 18 and something more to happen. But I think this year was an important time in Brian’s life, a chance for him to grow up a bit, develop some new relationships, and figure out how to handle life if he goes out to California. And as a reader, I really loved seeing him overcome the tremendous adversity and horrifying abuse he faces early in the book to become someone happy and healthy and loved. I am truly looking forward to the remaining books and seeing how the adventure continues.