Rating: 5 stars
Buy Link: Amazon
Ok, so I just finished this book and all I want to say to you guys is to GO READ IT! Because it is just that good. Like the kind of good where you stall for days on the last 30% because you know that it is going to end soon and maybe if you read slowly enough you can stretch it indefinitely. I know that I can’t even begin to capture all the wonderful aspects of the story and the writing in a way that will do it justice, so I just want to send you on your way to the store to buy it right now.
But, I am a good little reviewer and this book deserves me at least making an attempt at explaining why it is so awesome. Especially because I almost didn’t read it myself, even after hearing people tell me it was awesome (yes, I am sometimes dumb that way). First off, because this is a young adult story. And even though I occasionally read and enjoy YA, I tend to like my romance novels with an extra serving of sex on the side, so I don’t read much of it. Also, for whatever reason, the book blurb just didn’t grab me in a way where I felt like I really got it, despite being a total geeky girl myself. But finally I woke up and picked this one up. And you guys? Blew. Me. Away.
Ok, so here goes. We have two recent high school grads, Brandon and Abel, who are super fans of the sci-fi show Castaway Planet. They run a vlog where they dissect every episode, can quote practically every scene by heart, and worship the stars of the show. Abel adores the hunky and confident Captain Cadmus, strong, noble, and kicking butt. And that is sort of how he is in his own life (at least most of the time). Abel is out and bold and dresses how he wants and says what he thinks. He has dated and had boyfriends and sex and has lots of independence. Abel mirrors Cadmus in many ways, but we also see he is at times vulnerable and scared. And Brandon pines for the cool and reserved Sim, whose robotic artificial intelligence keep him calm and in control at all times. Because inside, Brandon is a bit of a bundle of mess. He has been raised in a conservative Catholic family that is very active in their church. Although he came out to them, his parents really haven’t accepted it and are trying to bring him back to the flock with the help of their priest, Father Mike. Part of Brandon has accepted that he no longer is a believer and that being gay is ok and he is still a good person. But there is another part of him that is still terrified that maybe, probably, he is going to hell.
Brandon and Abel are in an online rivalry with a group of girls who are Cadsim shippers (folks who want a relationship to develop between Cadmus and Sim). Their fangirl flames have been fanned after a season ending scene full of lingering gazes and pointed looks that leave open the possibility that these two heroes got in on in the crystal spider cave. Abel and Brandon think this shipping is a load of crap and these guys are meant to be only friends. Brandon and Abel are heading out on a road trip in Brandon’s family RV to go to six Castaway Planet fan conventions over the summer, along with Brandon’s best friend Bec (Brandon’s parents have no idea Abel is coming along, not so subtly hoping for a relationship between Bec and Brandon). The guys enter a bet with the Cadsim shippers where they will ask the stars at each of the cons whether they think the two heroes would ever get together, settling the question once and for all.
Along the way lots happens to these guys, as it usually does on road trips. The most shocking is that they find that in addition to the Cadsim shippers, there is a blog dedicated to people shipping Brandon and Abel themselves. Their shipping name is Abandon. *dies of cute* The guys decide to play along, stoking the fires for their rabid fans who are writing over-the-top romantic fanfic to their true and fated love. And as they read these stories and pretend for the cameras, they start to finally get brave enough to take that leap for real, confiding their feelings and really falling for each other. But of course, a lifetime of guilt and other baggage is hard to get rid of, and despite their feelings for each other, things are not always easy. These guys have to channel their inner heroes to be brave enough to overcome their fears and reach out and grab their happiness together.
Oh, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Ok, first off, I ADORED Brandon and Abel (Yes, Church of Abandon, I am a member). They are so sweet and funny and adorably geeky with their little plastic Cadmus and Sim action figures. Abel is so sweet and nurturing with Brandon, really caring and understanding as Brandon deals with all his issues. We see Abel’s confidence and strength, but also those hints of vulnerability that we notice but he manages to keep mostly hidden from Brandon. I love that he is open and out there with who he is, all crazy hair and ridiculous shirts and zest for life. And sweet Brandon, with all his internal flailing and guilt and desperately trying to figure out who he is and what he wants and how he can have it. I love that despite his many fears and the relentless negative voices talking over his shoulder, Brandon still manages to push forward and work to find his happiness. I love their banter and their fan boy dorkiness and the way they are clever and witty but still feel like 18 year olds. And they are so incredibly sweet together, full of young love mushiness in all its glory. And when Abel poses Plastic Cadmus and Plastic Sim spooning together under the covers after the first time Brandon and Abel have sex? DIES of the cute.
Second, the writing here is just amazing. You know when you read a book and you can tell that thought was put in to every single element of the story? Yes, that is what happens here. The book just works so well and Lillis crafts the story in such an amazing way. I can’t possibly do justice to explain why in detail, but I’ll mention one of my favorite parts of the book, which is the way we follow Brandon’s emotional progress throughout the story by way of the little voices he hears over his shoulder. When the book starts, Brandon is mired in a lot of guilt and fear and confusion. He is setting out on this adventure with the boy he is crushing on, lying to his parents, terrified of what he is doing. And at every pivotal moment, he hears Father Mike whispering in his ear, telling him he is doing wrong and calling him back to the flock. But it is hysterically done in the form of inspirational quotes from the book Father Mike gave him: Put on the Brakes! The Cool Kid’s Guide to Mastering Sexual Temptation. We get gems like, ” Chapter 4: Celibacy and happiness—can they go together? You bet! You can still have a full and fulfilling life while obeying a special call to abstinence…”
Brandon is trying hard not to be consumed by the guilt, and, over time, becomes increasingly confident as his relationship with Abel begins to build, especially when the Abandon fangirl shippers come on the scene. And soon he is hearing another voice in his ear, that of hey_mamacita, chief shipper, in the form of sappy, inspirational fanfic about Brandon being strong and confident and in control. I love the way he acts out the fanfic in his internal voice, giving himself the confidence to take action. But then when she is no longer around, Brandon falls apart, feeling like he needs her to bolster himself up. And it is only when he learns that he has the ability to find his own way, to figure out how to be the person he wants to be, and that he has the strength to do it, that he is finally able to be fully happy. It is so cleverly done by Lillis to give us this internal dialog that slowly changes as Brandon grows and changes himself, and ultimately he needs neither of them, because he can do it on his own.
The story is such a wonderful mix of sweet and tender, romantic and loving, funny and clever, and poignant and a bit heart wrenching. Here is one of my favorite sections, when Brandon and Abel admit how much they care about each other and are about to have sex for the first time. We see their characters so clearly here, with Abel nurturing and loving and Brandon terrified but desperately trying to be confident. And at the same time all their adorable wit and humor. Here they are in the shower pre sex:
“Bran,” he murmurs.
“Can I open my eyes now?”
I take a deep breath. It’s okay.
I feel good when I say it, but when his eyelids actually open I back up a step, clutch the washcloth against me. The hotel shower stall feels smaller, stifling. Am I too hairy? Not hairy enough? Did he imagine I was cut like a marble statue underneath my big t-shirts? Why didn’t I do crunches this week at the campground after he fell asleep?
His eyes trace the droplets branching down my chest.
They stop at my waistband.
“You’re still wearing your boxers.”
“Is there something you need to tell me?”
“Are you actually a Ken doll?”
“Is your dad a secret superhero and you have a bionic penis and you make up this big religious-paranoia back story because it shoots laser beams and has the strength of a bulldozer?”
“I knew it.”
I love how Lillis combines the humor and sweetness and the fear and the guilt and the love all together into one scene (and it gets even better but I didn’t want to ruin it all for you guys). Just so wonderfully well done.
Ok, I know I have been rambling on FOREVER here, but I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the fabulous fanboy and fangirl geekery here because it is one of my favorite elements of the story. I really think anyone can find a connection with this book, but if you have ever had a Lord of the Rings movie marathon, or read any fanfic, or shipped your favorite tv stars, or spent hours discussing the pros and cons of the movie versus the book, then you will totally understand these guys. The fanfic element is a riot and I think most of us who read m/m regularly will recognize at least a tiny part of ourselves in those Cadsim shippers. And while they are adorably funny and dorky, what I liked best is that sense of online community that they share. At one point as Brandon and Abel walk into their first con, Brandon reflects at how instantly at home he feels there, with his people who love the same things he does. And I think that there are places like that for many of us. Safe places where we can be ourselves and share our passions and know we won’t be judged or laughed at. I was struck by this particular passage because I said something very similar after being at GayRomLit and being able to just be myself in all my dorky glory with other m/m romance lovers.
We’re here. And when you’re a weird and awkward and paranoid person at all times, CastieCon is the happiest place on the planet.
It’s like, a baseline level of freakiness is expected here, right? So unless you’re disemboweling goats in the vendor hall, no one gives a damn who you are or what you’re doing. You want to spray your hair blue like Sim’s? You’ll fit right in; ten others beat you to it. You want to dress like Xaarg at a biker bar? Girls will take photos with you, fondling your black studded jacket. You can talk to vendors about bad paint apps on action figures; you can openly geek out when two writers sign your second-season finale script; you can join a panel debating if Castaway Planet is a real place or all in their head. And when you’re waiting for a Q&A and you see a fanvid on the screen—set to “Hallelujah,” for crap’s sake—no one will judge you if you get a tiny bit choked up.
Ok, so by now you are probably not even reading any more as I have gone on endlessly. Oe maybe you already ran out and bought the book instead? So if you are still with me, clearly you know I loved this book, whole heartedly recommend it, and want to keep it under my pillow forever. Go, buy it, read it, love it.
Cover: Oh, I love this one. So cute and perfectly appropriate for the story. Love the comic book geek vibe to it. Very well done.