Sixteen-year-old Ethan would rather have his manicured fingernails pulled out than spend two weeks at a Wyoming dude ranch. Sadly it wasn’t his year to choose the family vacation spot. Having pranced out of the closet at fourteen, Ethan is not a dude ranch kind of boy.
After the welcome speech, Ethan meets the ranch owner’s son, Jason, who gives Ethan personal attention, but when the subject of Ethan being gay comes up, Jason’s attitude becomes distant. Fortunately the animosity is short lived and the friendship is not lost. Jason convinces Ethan to try something else new: camping under the stars. As the boys get to know each other, Jason brings out an unexpected side of Ethan, an Ethan willing to try things outside his comfort zone, while Ethan makes Jason yearn for intimacy with a man that he figures he could never have.
Ethan and Jason’s physical relationship progresses over the two week visit to the ranch and Ethan’s mom worries that his attachment to Jason is setting himself up for disappointment. Add to the mix the ranches’ activity director, Rick, who has been making moves on Ethan and suspects Jason of being gay as well. Jason’s parents are less than warm and with his need to see Ethan and Rick’s knowledge, Jason is afraid of being found out and kicked out.
In the end, Ethan and his family must return home, leaving Jason behind, but Ethan is determined to help Jason escape his seemingly bleak future. Although the boys have said “I love you,” can their love withstand the thousand-mile distance between them? Such a short period of time can change lives forever.
Ethan is a deep philosophical young man, having gained his knowledge from the school of hard knocks. He has an incredibly supportive family, but that does not change the fact that people are cruel and his bravery at coming out at age 14 has taught him much. Then we have Jason, who is living a lie, a necessary lie, which was truly sad, yet common regardless of whether the teen is a rancher’s son or a city dweller. We hear stories of the bigotry experienced by LGBT teens by unsupportive family members and Jason’s family situation may not be the worst case scenario, it is far from the best.
Laughton truly knows how to put himself in the minds of his characters. As an adult, I would never have thought of the quote “Parents are weird. Just when you think you have them trained, they start to think for themselves.” This is just one of the things that lent authenticity to the story and the characters and made me feel that he captured the teenage mindset perfectly.
If there is one thing Laughton does well, it is the creation of the world in which the characters interact. I could picture the Rocking H ranch clear as day. The writing was exactly as I would have expected, smooth and satisfying and I have always found his stories to really explore the emotions of the characters and we can’t help but feel for the boys as they navigate their fledgling relationship.
Under the Stars was another sweet YA story that I feel captured the joys and trials of not only young love, but of long-distance relationships and the power of first, and true love. Another solid winner by Geoff Laughton
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.