Berlin Webber is a high school junior in the small Austin suburb of Lowry, Texas. He’s mostly sure he’s gay, though he’s dating a girl from church. She’s nice and their abstinence-preaching church doctrine keeps their contact minimal. Berlin is a star running back for his high school team, and suffers in silence the copious homophobia spewed by his best friend, Trent, and Trent’s father, an abusive man who happens to be the head football coach.
It’s the beginning of the school year and a new student, Hiroku Hayashi, flies into the school parking lot on his ninja motorcycle. Hiro is all man, but exotic and stylish—from his great hair to his black clothes and eyeliner—and out and proud, too. He’s like a tornado in Berlin’s backyard, and Berlin cannot help but strike up a clandestine friendship with Trent’s newest target.
Hiro isn’t happy about his new life in Lowry. He’d lived in Austin a long time, but drugs and a manipulative relationship with an older boy, Seth, nearly killed him. Hiro’s recovery from addiction is unpleasant, but he likes Berlin. Except, he’s sure that Trent won’t approve; they have a mutual hate society going. Hiro isn’t willing to be pushed around, which only spikes Trent’s ire. It also gives insight into Trent’s deep-seated self-loathing, but I think that will be another story.
While Berlin and Hiro keep their friendship—and sexual experiences—on the down low, it’s only a matter of time before they’re discovered, and this brings about huge, and awful, changes for both of them. Hiro’s not willing to let Berlin suffer on his account, and his decision to seek solace with his former bandmates leads to an abyss Hiro nearly doesn’t survive.
I absolutely loved this story, and felt all the anguish and angst that comes along with being a questioning and closeted teen—as well as the shame and frustration of addiction and abuse. Man! While the characters are teens, the story isn’t shy about sex or drug use. The emotional manipulation was strong, as well, and I applaud the author on writing characters that felt so authentic. Berlin is the hero we all want him to be, even if his timing isn’t perfect. He saves Hiro from self-destruction, and his abusers, whenever possible. I loved the sweet addition of the interracial romance, and felt Hiro’s Japanese family was well-written and thoughtfully constructed. His mother is a treasure, and I wanted to have tea with her myself. Hiro is a great boy with deep troubles, but he’s also a fighter—and he steps to the line time and time again to prove himself. His determination to live right—near the end of the book—was really admirable.
This is a book about young people, but doesn’t exactly read like a young adult book. Heavy topics like finding your own path, being true to yourself, getting clean, surviving drug and partner abuse, and standing up for what’s right made this a far darker book than I’d expected. And that’s without the sexytimes and hate crime. That said, I’d highly recommend it to readers who like YA fiction and older teens.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.