Flynn Brewer knows he is gay, that’s the easy part. Coming out at school and to best friend Zach Mitchell is not. Flynn’s father’s biggest concern is what Zack’s very religious father will think. Having lost his mother and brother in a car accident years before, the Mitchell family, in particular Zach and his mother, have become a big part of Flynn’s life.
Seven years after the loss of his family members, and struggling with grief and guilt, Flynn convinces his workaholic, alcoholic father to join him at his mother’s grave and the aftermath leaves both Flynn and his father in tatters. Now Flynn and his father need to figure out how to move forward. A revelation leads to a change of heart and a change of attitude toward viewing the world.
Fellow art student, Keith Leppo, becomes Flynn’s first boyfriend. Keith is out, at home and at school, while Flynn remains almost completely in the closet. Although Flynn and Keith become boyfriends, an incident at school cements Flynn’s desire to keep his sexuality to himself, much to Keith’s frustration. Flynn is torn between Keith and Zach, the boyfriend and the childhood friend. Zach’s secrets are slowly revealed, but Flynn can’t come out to Zach, much to Keith’s dismay. When Zach is taken to a religious retreat, he returns a broken man. The change, and Flynn’s concern for Zach, as well as his relationship with Keith, become the impetus for change, for finally coming out to one of the most important people in his life. But a series of bad decisions send Flynn and Keith in separate directions yet again. But this time, Flynn realizes that he needs to reconsider his actions, that he has been unfair to Keith, and that something will need to change if they can get back together.
The night before Zach’s wedding, Flynn tries one last time to get to the bottom of the mystery that is the “new” Zach and the answer is better and worse than Flynn could have imagined, enough to finally admit the truth to Zach about himself, damn the consequences. Zach’s wedding is disrupted by an accident, and when Zach later encounters Keith, the truth about Flynn’s relationship and behavior regarding Zach is revealed.
Kelly doesn’t pull punches, that’s for sure. Misplaced Affection is a complex look at coming out, God and religion, life, death, and moving forward with life. It feels like there is a lot of personal experience in regards the character’s interpretation of God and what it means to the families. One school of thought is obligation to God versus God flowing through a person and both of these ideas are addressed skillfully by Kelly. The opinions truly felt consistent with the characters dealing with the subject matter. It was great to see even the more extreme religious views discussed without censure.
I have been noticing annoying and flawed characters more often lately, and can say without a doubt that Flynn was one of the annoying ones. I am not saying this to be mean, as I am a big fan of a character that frustrates me when I cannot understand why they are behaving a certain way, and absolutely love it when the reason comes to light and shows how deep and complex the character ends up being. There are many layers of characters in Misplaced Affection and I can say without a doubt that they are all flawed, insecure, and unabashedly human.
Flynn’s dad, even with his change of attitude and behavior, felt like a constant presence throughout the book, yet again demonstrating the power of grief and poor choices, and making a conscious choice to be a better man and really running with it. Keith is such a great guy, so strong, stubborn, jealous, and yet so in love, with a fantastic family. Yet he is the character I felt the most empathy for. His relationship with Flynn was enough to drive anyone to distraction. I can’t keep going on about all of the supporting players (you will get that reference when you read the book) but suffice it to say that they all bring an important part to the table and contribute to the depth and reality that is Flynn, Zach, and Keith’s lives.
I could not imagine living in the Mitchell household, wishing that was not a reality for some kids, but knowing that it is, making Misplaced Affection one of the more complex, sad, disturbing, and yet universal stories that I have read in a good long while. You could change the names of the cities and find the same situations playing out behind closed doors.
Kelly broke the story into three parts, each narrated by one of the key characters, Flynn, Zach, and eventually Keith. The technique worked really well for me, as each character saw events in their own way, occasionally adding to a previous chapter but mostly adding their present day observations in order to advance the plot. Sadly, there were a few editing issues I noticed along the way, minor but significant enough to pull me out of the story for a brief moment each time. Fortunately, these editing blips were just that, minor, and in the big picture, did not lessen my enjoyment of the story.
No one can say that Kelly goes for the easy stuff, nope, not at all. Worth reading? Absolutely, without a doubt. But be warned, if discussions about differing religious beliefs are taboo for you, I would not recommend this book, although it would be sad to miss out on the lives of these engaging characters, especially since the topic of extremist religion is sadly such a big part of our lives at this time.