Some of us see the label Young Adult and automatically give a novel a pass. While I am sure there may be many good reasons for doing so, I am encouraging you to linger for a moment and enjoy Gene Gant’s stunning new novel, Always Leaving. Peopled with interesting characters, one that will melt even the stoniest of hearts, this coming of age novel is intelligently written, gritty, unflinching, and a taut, suspenseful mystery all rolled into one.
It might also be appropriate to say at this juncture that there is a scene within the first few pages that could be a trigger for those who have been a victim of rape. So that I am clear, the actual act does not happen, however, the circumstances surrounding this part of the narrative are realistic and potentially disturbing for victims who have suffered this in reality. Again, this is a tiny episode that is a needed part of the longer story and allows us to understand why our main character is so very wary and unwilling to grow any sort of personal attachments to those around him, until he meets another young man who changes his life profoundly.
Jason Barrett never seems to stop walking. Six months prior, something happened to Jason that traumatized him so dramatically that he now has no prior memory of his life. He cannot remember who he is, where he has come from, if he has family, nothing, except his name. He has stayed in the latest town, New Hanover, for the longest thus far, almost a month. And yet, despite the kind woman he boards with and the job he has at the local café, Jason feels the constant pull to move on, to keep walking, for despite all the dangers the open road holds, it is still the one place he feels a little safe. Jason’s life is one moment of body wracking fear after another and leaving is a sure way to keep him from cracking wide open.
Then he sees someone whose quick movements and beauty in motion actually makes him hesitate. Ravi Mitchell is fifteen, gay, and determined. Having failed at almost every sport he’s attempted or chosen to quit over the homophobic bullying he has been the victim of, Ravi has embraced karate and with steely focus has decided he will be the best. However, on this day, Ravi pushes himself too far and collapses under the noonday sun to be rescued by none other than Jason.
Thus begins a sweetly cautious relationship between the two boys. Ravi, who deals with his father’s intense hatred of blacks and muslims, is now dating a black boy. When he is finally pressured into bringing home his new boyfriend, sparks fly and Jason retreats into the one place that has always calmed him, his music. Before he knows it, he is sitting at a piano, suddenly playing with finesse, while Ravi and his parents argue beyond the door of the study. The music that always calmed him will be the catalyst for a whole world of change for Jason and with it will come the source of the deep, dark moment that caused Jason’s memory lapse and his constant running. The only question that remains now is will Jason survive this visitor from his past?
What an intense and gorgeous novel Always Leaving turned out to be by story’s end. I was truly spellbound by the lush writing and the carefully woven mystery. Jason and Ravi were both atypical and yet deceptively normal teens in so many ways. The strong attraction they feel for one another springs from a place of mutual fear and need. For Ravi, the fears stem from failing his father and living with his Dad’s increasingly violent reaction to both the Muslim faith and the black community at large. It is a truly fascinating twist to this story that Jason is African American and perhaps the gentlest of people Ravi has ever met.
There was never a moment in this novel where I felt there was a wasted word or a hastily tossed off moment. Rather, each piece of this book intertwined with another, giving us an incredible tale of survival and courage. Always Leaving by Gene Gant is a topnotch young adult novel that will thrill teens and adults alike. I highly recommend it to you.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.