Johanna Parkhurst has written what she calls a “companion” book to her story, Here’s To You, Zeb Pike. It is a novel that I must shamefully admit I have not read—no worries though, for I immediately purchased it after reading her latest release, Thanks a Lot, John LeClair. While it is not absolutely necessary that you read Zeb Pike prior to this one, I will tell you that reading these in order enriches the overall story. However, this author is so very skilled at storytelling and cleverly constructs this new novel that even without the benefit of reading the first you are able to dive right into the teenage world of Emmitt and Dusty and absolutely enjoy every second you are there. There is so much to this book—so much depth of characterization, a rich story line that carefully constructs supportive families that don’t appear either unrealistic or weak, and real teenage dilemmas that are not easily fixed or dismissed without being addressed. Thanks a Lot, John LeClair plumbs the depths of teens on the cusp of adulthood and does so with grace, intelligence, and humor and I would definitely put it on the must buy list for 2016.
The story features Emmitt LaPoint, a sixteen-year old hockey star who is fast leading his team to the state finals. He is also deeply in the closet to most of his friends, his team, and the world, but not to his family or his coach—whose nephew happens to be Emmitt’s boyfriend, Dusty. Over the course of the novel, we are privy to Emmitt’s fears about being exposed as gay and his strong emotional ties to his boyfriend, his mother, brother, and his team. We are also made very aware of his absentee father who divorced his mom a few years before and has a new family states away. Here is the real crux of the novel for life starts to spiral out of control when his dad reappears in his life just as Emmitt and the team are poised to clinch their place in the state final—their goal is just a few games away and Emmitt’s dad decides he should reinvest himself in Emmitt’s life and get him seen by the big guns in hockey. Being scouted also means moving away for his senior year to a bigger league school where a shoe-in to the NHL is a viable option. That is the dilemma—it means not only must Emmitt leave his mom and brother, but Dusty as well, and Emmitt is fairly sure that he is falling hard in love with Dusty.
But Dusty is not a closeted teen—in fact, he is struggling with being Emmitt’s secret and when someone threatens to put all that and their relationship at risk, Dusty must make some devastatingly hard decisions that will throw both his family relationships and his secret life with Emmitt into turmoil. The real question is can Emmitt and Dusty survive everything that is being thrown at them without losing each other and all they have built together.
There is so much I cannot tell you without spoiling this novel for you, but here is what I can state unequivocally: this novel reaches beyond the label of Young Adult and brings into the light the many insecurities we all feel when trying to hold onto the person we love while trying to make our own personal dreams and aspirations come true. This is about family—the wonderful and the gritty. Relationships are jumbled, strained, and strengthened throughout this story—and they are never done in a way that calls to mind fairy tales or unrealistic scenarios. This is real life put on the page of a compelling and entertaining story that includes some teenagers who I would love to have met in my high school days.
Dusty and Emmitt are strong together, but they are also the personification of teens who are grappling with growing up in a world that still hosts homophobia. The amazing aspect of this novel is that these boys are interesting, breathing characters in their own right—neither is sublimated or weakened when the story focuses on just one of them. Neither is a mere prop or bit of fluff that is there merely to support the stronger person. They are equally grounded in lives that have not been easy and have been forced to make decisions that have not always been the ones they would have chosen. As a result, you have multi-dimensional heroes who occasionally have feet of clay, who make stupid mistakes, but who have the gumption to step up and admit they are flawed. Plus, there is just enough teenage angst to lend a realistic flair to this remarkable story.
I cannot say enough about this novel. I highly recommend you grab a copy of Johanna Pankhurst’s Thanks a Lot, John LeClair. In my opinion, it is one of the finest YA novels of 2016.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.