Rating: 3.75 stars
Buy Links: Amazon | All Romance
Jeff Irwin is your typical 14-year-old nerd. He does well in school, has a group of “outcast” friends, and spends most of his spare time reading. When the football coach of his high school in Boyne City, Michigan asks him to tutor Brett Willson, the star quarterback who is failing his English class for the third time, Jeff hesitantly agrees. He figures Brett is your typical dumb jock, but is surprised to find that, not only is he not dumb at all, Jeff genuinely likes Brett, and they start up an unlikely friendship.
Brett finds he likes Jeff a lot as well, and while Brett is 17 and Jeff only 14, Brett feels the most comfortable and happy when he’s around him. After a while, their studying time becomes hanging out time and then the two start exploring their feelings for one another. Jeff never considered the possibility that he might be gay, but he can’t ignore his feelings for Brett. Brett has had more experience than Jeff, but he also has more pressure to keep his sexuality a secret from his parents, his coaches, and his community. He has much more to lose should their secret become exposed.
When Jeff goes through a series of traumatic events in his life, Brett is the one who holds him up and gets him through it. Jeff starts to recognize their relationship as one with a bit of a Dominant/submissive slant. Brett refers to Jeff as either “pup” or “sport,” and Jeff feels an emotional compulsion to serve and worship Brett. Regardless of their roles in the relationship, there is no doubt they are in love with one another. The question is, can these two very young high school kids stand up for the love they feel for one another in the hostile 1980s in a fairly conservative town?
I enjoy reading YA books, and this was a really good one. It makes me hopeful to think that maybe one young person can read this book and feel less alone in the world. Jeff Irwin is a hero to look up to. He’s so young, only 14, but he’s able to accept the feelings he’s having as real and exciting and wonderful, and embrace the love he has for another boy. Erno does not sugarcoat things. It’s not easy for either one of these boys, and he realistically portrays the bigotry that was especially prevalent in the 1980s, which led to some significant tragedies. But love is love, and the sweetness of the love these two boys share is something that may keep even one teenager from giving up or thinking their happily ever after does not exist.
I did have a few serious concerns, though. For one, I had a hard time with the age of main character Jeff — just 14. The author addresses this issue in the prologue, and I understand that there are kids at 14 who are in love and in touch with their sexuality and are sexually active. I guess I had a hard time feeling the depth of their emotion and feelings for each other since they were so young, one only 14. It especially made me uneasy when the two explored their power dynamic. Jeff finds that he wants to be submissive to Brett, and Brett asks for Jeff to basically worship him. Usually, in this type of relationship, it becomes clear that the submissive is the one who truly holds the power, but I never felt that here — mostly because their immaturity and lack of experience didn’t allow for a deep understanding of their mutual roles. It worried me, made me feel like Jeff was being taken advantage of whereas, if he were 16 or 17, I probably wouldn’t have felt this way.
I also had a little bit of an issue with the way the story was written. First person POV is difficult to pull off in a narrative, and in this case I thought writing an entire novel from the authentic voice of a 14-year-old boy was almost impossible. Sometimes the language felt too formal, much less casual than you would expect from such a young boy. It may have also contributed to my previous concern. Since we saw the entire story from such a young, inexperienced mind, it was hard to believe that these were two soul mates who were meant for each other.
Overall, I’d recommend this book, especially to young adult readers. It is a sweet, hopeful story about two boys who just want to be who they are and love each other. There are struggles, but there is intense happiness. So give it a try.
Note: This book was previously released and the Dreamspinner Press edition we are reviewing is the second version of the book.