Rating: 5 stars
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I can’t tell you about all of the horrible things I see in my head.
I can’t clearly articulate what it’s like to die inside.
I can’t describe what it’s like to want to scream every minute of every day.
Aaron Downing feels like he is dead inside. Two years after a brutal and horrifying attack, Aaron is still just barely hanging on. He is a shell of his former self — suffering panic attacks, afraid of being touched, barely tolerating being around other people, and terrified all the time. The only things holding him together are lots of medication and the never ending support of his mother. Even still, most of the time Aaron feels like he would be better off if he had died that night with his friend Juliette, the mental and physical scars are just too hard to bear. Yet he doesn’t want to hurt his family any worse than they already have been, so he hangs in there and does his best to eke things out day by day. When his mother wants Aaron to try attending the local college, he is terrified. He can’t even begin to imagine being around all those people, having them stare at his scars, and putting himself out there when he can barely function as it is. But his mother is so patient and understanding and he already feels like such a burden that Aaron agrees to try it for her.
Spencer Thomas is a fellow student in Aaron’s computer class. He is immediately struck upon meeting Aaron, seeing his terror, and Spencer’s heart just breaks for him. Spencer knows what it is like to be different, to have people look at you and make judgements. Spencer is deaf and his speaking voice is altered. People are either uncomfortable around him or treat him like he is stupid because he can’t hear and he hates the added attention of his interpreter in class. Spencer is the only child of an alcoholic father and a mother who died in childbirth. He is lonely, seeking out anonymous sex and internet chat hookups rather than risk having to talk. But all Spencer really wants is someone who will treat him like a normal person.
Their teacher realizes the guys may be a good fit as partners on the class project since neither one is really comfortable with face to face communication. So Spencer and Aaron begin working together, and against all odds, become friends. Spencer loves that Aaron treats him as a regular guy, that his deafness is not a factor in their relationship at all. And Aaron finds himself suprisingly comfortable with Spencer in a way he is with no one besides his mother. Spencer’s father is also a retired therapist specializing in helping victims of trauma. He begins to meet regularly with Aaron, and slowly Aaron begins to make small steps forward. However, it is not an easy road. For every small victory – tolerating someone touching him, calming down after a panic attack, recognizing a new trigger – there are set backs too. Aaron’s road to recovery is the tiniest light at the end of a very long tunnel, but for the first time, he actually sees one there, especially with Spencer at his side. Aaron dares to hope for the first time since the attack that he may actually get better.
Wow, you guys this was such a wonderful book. Intense and brutal, but at the same time so full of hope. When we first meet Aaron he is just a shell of a person, barely hanging on. The events of his past are horrific, so terrible it is hard to even read about them, let alone imagine them happening to a 16-year-old boy. We feel his pain and share his horror as he tries to make it through each day. But at the same time, we meet Aaron just as things are slowly starting to get better. He begins to get out of the house, goes to college, makes a friend (and ultimately a boyfriend) in Spencer, and begins to learn to control his fears. I think Barnaby walks a fine line here so incredibly well. One wrong move and the story would have fallen into maudlin and depressing, or else unrealistically pat and simple. But instead we see Aaron through his ups and downs. We watch him make small steps forward, we see him have setbacks, and we can root for him all the while knowing that he is slowly but surely making progress. Despite the intensity and despite the fact that the road isn’t always smooth, I found this story so full of hope. We as readers can see that a bit at a time Aaron is getting better, even if he doesn’t always realize it himself.
And oh how I loved Spencer and Aaron together. Their growing friendship is so achingly sweet and watching this two guys who have each suffered in their own ways find something in each other is just so lovely. At first they are nothing but friends. Neither even realizes the other is gay. And Aaron is so far from being able to have a romantic relationship, let alone a sexual one, when they first meet. He is still so traumatized by his attack that just thinking sexual thoughts sends him into a tailspin of guilt and fear. But slowly a friendship begins to form. And with Spencer’s unflagging support and patience, along with Dr. Thomas’ therapy, the friendship slowly begins to grow into more. I loved the way these guys understand each other and support one another. One of my favorite scenes is in the school cafeteria when Spencer automatically stands behind Aaron to shield him physically from the other students in line, while Aaron orders for Spencer so he doesn’t have to talk to a stranger and face unwanted attention for his voice. What they have is so sweet and lovely, and though they must take things slowly, I ended the book feeling like they are headed for a great future together.
I really can’t say enough about how wonderful I found this book. The characters are so layered and the story is so richly developed. It is clear when you read Barnaby’s writing that everything that happens, everything that the characters do and say, is carefully put in place for a particular reason. Each small element has meaning and adds a piece to the story as it builds and grows. Even the secondary characters are filled with such depth, from Aaron’s mother who is the foundation holding Aaron together, to Spencer’s dad who faces his own demons but at the same time is one of the few people who can really help Aaron, to even Aaron’s father and brothers as they try to adapt to life with a broken member of the family. I was so immersed in this book that I couldn’t put it down. I felt so drawn in to Aaron and Spencer, to the story of their building friendship and ultimate love, and to the joy they find together. This is such a wonderful story, I highly recommend it.
Cover: Oh, I love this cover so much! The artist has done such a beautiful job here, it is haunting and gorgeous at the same time. In fact, I loved it so much I interviewed Barnaby and the cover artist last week and have some amazing details about how it was all put together. So be sure to check out that post if you are interested in the making of the Aaron cover.
P.S. If you want a chance to win a copy of Aaron, be sure to stop by our Young Love Week giveaway running all week!