Through a series of alternating chapters describing present and past events, author Matthew J. Metzger unpacks a dramatic story that, despite a clear HEA, left me absolutely drained and shocked. Before you decide that flashbacks are not for you or that stories using that literary element frustrate you, I heartily encourage you to take a chance on Thicker Than Bone. It is, hands down, one of the best novels I have ever read and defies being categorized neatly into either romance or thriller and yet has elements of both. But what really makes this story shine are the two main characters and the life they slowly build for themselves despite dealing with life threatening racism, homophobia, and deadly cancer. This is not your typical survivor story. This book reaches into that place inside you where your sense of justice for your fellow man lives and rocks it to the core, causing you to be confronted with what true mindless hate looks like and how it can exist right beside a twisted sort of love. I am literally gob smacked. I so desperately want to chuck this review and just tell you that this novel is important for so many reasons and that you will really be passing up an incredibly passionate and beautiful love story if you do not read it. But review I must—so here goes.
From present day to four years previous, the author plots the life of a biracial gay couple, Ali and Yazid, and their life together. Almost immediately you are aware of the absolute mindless hatred Ali’s psychotic brother Tony has for Yazid. It is easy to be lulled into believing that it is because Yazid is of Iraqi heritage that Tony despises him, but the reasons for his intense anger lay much deeper. As the story reveals, Tony really believes, as does his mother and sister, that Ali’s “gayness” is a passing folly and if he is kept from bad influences that he will change his ways. As the story progresses and we are privy to Ali and Yazid’s lives post-bashing and cancer struggle as it is juxtaposed with the past where the events described have not yet taken place, we are able to track the downward spiral and unraveling of Tony’s contempt for Yazid and his evolution into more and more violent behavior and the result is spine chilling.
In the present, Tony has been diagnosed with the same cancer that nearly killed Yazid—poetic justice is ripe for the picking here in this plot point. Now it is up to Ali to decide if he will be the savior, for he is a match to donate the much-needed blood that will stem and hopefully reverse the deadly disease his brother has. But to help—to prolong the life of the very person who nearly killed his partner—how can Ali possibly do that? How can he save the brother he both fears and hates?
That is literally the gist of this incredible novel. Back and forth we ride the roller coaster that is the life of two men who truly love each other and simply want their families to accept them. Yazid’s parents died at an early age forcing he and his brother Khalid into foster care. Khalid is a devout Muslim and, as such, fears for Yazid’s immortal soul as homosexuality is a deadly sin according to his faith. They talk, and yet, they are estranged and Khalid never ceases to try and get Yazid to renounce his “proclivities” and come back to the one, true way.
Ali’s father has died from cancer, his mother is remarried and even though she professes to accept that Ali is gay, she continually hopes that it is a phase he will grow out of and Yazid is a mere aberration in the life she truly wants for her son. When Tony does the unspeakable and nearly kills Yazid, it will be both Ali’s mother and sister who will stand up for him in court—decrying the idea that he is capable of murder and pleading for a reduced sentence. If this were not enough to drive a wedge between Ali and his family, the fact that his own brother, a neo-Nazi homophobic racist shows his twisted sense of love for Ali by continually pouring out hate and anger over his “chosen lifestyle” and by bashing anyone who dares to try having a relationship with his little brother.
I cannot describe to you the incredible talent that Metzger has in weaving a story so intense and rich that I literally was clenching my kindle in horror and I already knew the outcome was going to be okay. Yet each flashback chapter tightened the knot in my stomach causing me to literally close the kindle—putting it aside in order to draw a breath and relax so that I could deal with the next moment that would unfold in this amazing novel. I so wanted this story to not happen. I wanted the present to be it—no past—no nightmare to survive—no horrible attack. Ali and Yazid were pure magic together. The love they have for each other transcends their circumstances and becomes a lifeline for them both. They are poetry in motion.
It is interesting to note that I think the author does a subtle thing when describing their daily interactions. You can see how the violence that consumes Ali’s brother, Tony, might also have a hold on Ali. In the description of their daily interactions, Ali is noted as consistently pinching, administering “love taps” and light kicks to Yazid when he wants him to behave and be serious. At first I thought this was so cute until I realized it was a daily event in their lives and then when Ali’s need to occasionally dominate sexually was described as a key way to reduce stress in his life, I realized that the author might be showing me how the brothers both carried some very real anger issues inside themselves. It revealed so much about Ali and, in turn, the lengths to which Yazid understood his partner’s need to give vent to an anger that could have turned to something more if given no way to escape. I will admit that I might be over thinking those moments and yet I’m inclined to stick to my theory—they are a part of the fabric of Ali and Yazid’s lives and, as such, are mentioned regularly in the story. In no way does this diminish Ali’s love for Yazid or their life together, but it does give an added dimension to already richly detailed characters.
So, here we are with a poorly constructed review for an outstanding novel that is both timely given our current political climate and compelling to read. Thicker Than Bone is a story that is riveting and mesmerizing with characters that seem so alive—so real and, in some cases, so very scary that one cannot but help be drawn into their lives completely. I cannot give this novel enough stars. It is just an incredible book that you must not miss. I highly recommend Thicker Than Bone by Matthew J. Metzger to you.