The lives of two sons of ambassadors become eternally entwined when each loses a parent in a car explosion. Both gay, one has found love and acceptance while the other has endured years of mental, physical, and sexual abuse as his half-brothers seek to cure him of his “homosexuality.” One is optimistic, brave, and strong while the other is broken, fragile, and detached. Thrown together on the first day of their senior year at the private school in Alexandria, Virginia, the two young men embark on a journey that will have them confronting espionage, intrigue, assassination attempts, and murder. Along the way, one is raped, the other nearly raped; one is beaten, the other drugged; one is kidnapped, the other must be strong enough for both of them and fight against diplomatic immunity in order to save the other who holds a secret that may get them both killed.
If you read just one book this year, this should be the book to read. My first C. Kennedy book, I was unprepared for the intensity of the story. Here it is, days after I finished the book, and I am still struggling to process my feelings with this story and question whether my review can even begin to do this book justice. To start, I should begin by telling you that this book deals with issues of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse that some readers may not be comfortable with. The abuse rings true and is laid out for readers without any candy-coating to make it more palatable, yet it never crosses the line to where it feels exploitive. Instead of being there just for shock factor, the abuse told in these pages relayd a message to victims of abuse that they aren’t broken; they can heal and attain a better life for themselves. The author also uses them to challenge readers to identify abuse and be willing to stand up, offer that helping hand to victims to grasp onto at a time when they no longer believe there is a reason for living.
The story is told primarily from the viewpoint of Declan de Quirke. Declan was fortunate to grow up under the loving eyes of his ambassador parents, and has learned the art of diplomacy well. Though he is “out” to his family, his sexuality has remained hidden to his classmates forcing him to walk a fine line between being true to himself while fitting in with who everyone thinks he is. As his relationship with Isidore progresses, his sexuality is questioned by his classmates. Initially, Declan feels the need to continue the secret before he is forced to stand up for himself in order to protect Isidore.
Jean-Isidore de Sauveterre is also the son of ambassador parents. He is a shell of a person when he walks into school that first day of his senior year. After years of abuse, a failed suicide attempt resulted in an extended stay in a mental institution where the abuse he faced at home seemed preferable to the abuse he suffered under the care of doctors. Despite knowing his friendship with Declan will result in the potential for harsher abuse from his family, Isidore accepts the hand Declan and his mother, Sorcha, extend and begins to blossom before our eyes.
Despite Isidore being offered the opportunity to escape his abusers, he struggles between the worlds of good and evil. In Declan’s world, everyone is the epitome of good as he has standing beside him people who are willing to risk their own well-being in order to help others. In Isidore’s world, everyone is the epitome of evil, seeking to destroy anything wholesome and to protect themselves at any cost. By stepping into Declan’s world, Isidore’s very existence threatens to bring evil down upon everyone in Declan’s life, forcing Isidore to choose between his own happiness and the safety of those who seek to help him.
This is a fast-paced book that will leave you telling yourself over and over “just one more chapter.” There is so much going on in this story that it is difficult to reveal too much without giving too much away. So to sum it up nicely, there is a sex scandal, an STD scandal, a drugging scandal, and a suicide scandal at the school. There is an assassination, an assassination attempt, a kidnapping, and a trial.
While the story has plenty of mystery/intrigue, it is foremost a first-love story. Declan and Isidore are 17 and 18 years old, high school seniors falling in love and exploring their sexuality. As a reader, I appreciated the fact that the author focused more on the intimacy of Declan and Isidore’s relationship more than their sexual relationship given the sexual abuse Isidore endured.
Without a doubt, this book is one of the best books I have read in a long time. I hesitate to say it was enjoyable because the subject matter was heavy, yet the mystery/intrigue going on simultaneously kept me glued to the pages. Had there not been so much else going on in the book, I fear I probably wouldn’t have been able to finish the story because at times I found myself heading down into the rabbit hole with Isidore, afraid that his nightmare would never end. Yet, like Isidore, I began to believe that Declan could slay those dragons guarding that rabbit hole and slowly begin to see the light shining back down.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.