Rating: 4.5 stars
Buy Links: Amazon | All Romance
Heavyweight is the story of Ian, a high school wrestler in a small town who spends all of his time obsessing over staying below 221 lbs so he can continue his success as one of the top high school wrestlers without being bumped up into the heavyweight class. Ian not only struggles with a serious eating disorder, he also is hiding the fact that he’s gay, since he knows when this gets out, no one will understand. He has a best friend and a girlfriend of the month that he keeps at arm’s length to keep people from discovering his secret. Things aren’t great in his life, but they’re not terrible either, until twins Julian and Mei Li arrive at the high school. The second Ian spots Julian, he realizes it’s going to be much more difficult to ignore his feelings for other guys.
Julian is beautiful and out and proud. He doesn’t love that Ian is closeted and afraid to live his life out in the open, but he cares about Ian and knows that his home life is far from ideal, since he lives with his alcoholic, abusive father and a mother who won’t stand up to him. Jules and his twin sister and their aunt take Ian in and show him more support and love than he’s ever felt. It’s still difficult for Ian to be himself and give into his feeling for Jules, though, since it means giving up everything that he has ever known and he knows there will be serious repercussions for living life in the open.
The strength of this young adult novel is that it deals with heavy themes that are often ignored, and does it well. Eating disorders are often explored in novels, but very seldom with males, even though it is not that uncommon in young adult males, especially amongst wrestlers who are trying to maintain a certain weight class. Mulhall does a wonderful job of exploring the psyche of this underrepresented group of people and showing how emotionally damaging it can be just to be a kid in high school, with pressures from family and coaches and peers. It’s heartbreaking to read Ian’s story, yet it’s also easy to believe the emotional journey that he takes.
The biggest weakness of Heavyweight is that it sometimes strays into cliched high school moments, with characters and situations that seem to respond in an over-the-top manner. The administration of the high school, for instance, is quick to turn against Ian without much investigation or any semblance of fairness. I’d like to think this wouldn’t be the case, even in a small town, and that while there still exists bigotry, the school administration’s first job is to protect their students. Then, within a few months, the worst bigots suddenly become Ian’s most staunch supporters. It makes for a nice, sweet prom moment, but it’s a little too difficult to believe and takes a bit away from the importance of the subject matter.
Overall, I thought this book was excellent and I would recommend it to any young adult and adults as well. It’s a touching depiction the difficult life of a teen and the pressures they encounter every day. It’s also just a terrific read, with good, solid writing and characters you care about.