Had Stan stayed in his homeland of Russia, he could never have hoped to be himself. So while leaving his family was hard, the international life of fashion journalism has allowed him a chance to embrace his gender fluidity and carve out a life for himself.
Stan’s newest job has landed him in London and he’s looking forward to the change after the frantic pace of his previous work in Italy. He meets handsome guitarist and bartender Ben, who can’t resist Stan’s ethereal beauty and brilliant mind. More importantly, Ben accepts Stan just as he is and without expectation or a wish for change.
But Stan has more than a few personal demons and as he settles into a relationship with Ben, they begin to plague his potential happiness. Ben’s career is taking off and what should be a time of amazing happiness turns dark when Stan is hospitalized. Stan must face his past once and for all if he wants to have a future with Ben.
The Impossible Boy was a wonderfully sweet romance between two men who captured my interest right from the start. I think the author has done a good job of approaching the issues facing the gender fluid community with compassion and while Stan’s gender identity is certainly a part of him, it never defines him wholly. He does struggle with anorexia and in a large way this struggle becomes one of the book’s main plot themes. We see Stan managing his new life in London with apparent ease, but we’re always aware that there is a darker, more painful layer to his condition. Yet Stan is a warm, caring man and his journey back to good health is all the more poignant because of it. Ben is steady and unwavering in his love of and support for Stan. He never feels indistinct as a character though and doesn’t become subsumed by Stan’s flashier personality. As a result, they feel like a realistic couple, working through the believable ups and downs of others in a similar situation.
I only had a couple of gripes with The Impossible Boy and these are very slight. First was the fact that Stan’s health crisis seemingly comes out of nowhere. Because of this it feels slightly contrived. Had we, as readers, been given a more complete picture of his downward spiral, the entire event would have achieved a greater sense of legitimacy. The other issue was Ben’s involvement in the band. He makes it clear at one point that musical success is the dream of others and not his own. Yet he feels compelled to continue as the band’s lead singer. By the end of the book, there is a sensation that Ben is merely going through the motions. Even when Stan is sick, as Ben tries to pull away from the band, his fellow musicians seem to think the only important thing is achieving their big break. It just didn’t seem like Ben would allow himself to be so manipulated by others and felt somewhat out of character.
Overall The Impossible Boy was a beautiful book with a strong plot and two engaging protagonists. There are a few niggles, but these are minor, and The Impossible Boy remains a beautiful story about the importance of acceptance and the power of love. Consider this one strongly recommended.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.