Shane has just transferred to a new school. After a violent episode at his last school where he broke a football player’s arm for bullying his friend, Shane took a year off while completing mandated community service. Shane is a big muscular guy and his scar and his tattoos give everyone the wrong idea. On his first day, he meets Matt. Shane is always drawn to the smaller guy and his protective instincts kick into high gear when he sees Matt’s struggles.
Matt’s life is one of constant fear. He is the target for the bullies at school and instead of telling anyone, he tries to continually dodge them. When Shane approaches Matt, Matt thinks Shane is just another bully, but Shane is lonely, he’s drawn to Matt, and he wants a friend. The guys navigate friendship and then a budding relationship until one more act of violence threatens to end their relationship for good.
I read hundreds of books in this genre a year and this book…whoa…I had so many issues with this book. At just 10% I was ready to close it permanently and being that it’s a relatively long book, it was an uphill climb the entire way to get through this one. In the beginning of the book, the author mentions that he is a “non native speaker.” That only confirmed what was clearly evident throughout the entire book. Shane and Matt are American high school seniors and neither of them spoke true to their character. The phrases were awkward and off and both of them sounded overly formal and not at all what young men of this age would sound like. That was a big part of what made this book so difficult to get through and left me completely disconnected from the characters. Also, the dialogue was repetitive with words being overused. For example, “moreover” was used 22 times.
The second problem was just the story itself. The initial premise sounded fine with the larger than life, muscular guy falling for the guy that everyone bullies. But, wow, where to begin. When Shane starts at his new school, he meets with the principal. By all accounts, she is fair and confirms to Shane that if she thought he was violent he would not be attending her school because she doesn’t tolerate that type of behavior. Now Matt spends each day being terrified. I mean absolutely shaking, hyperventilating, and coming apart terrified as he dodges several bullies who are after him at school. They steal his lunch all the time, which carries over to other parts of his life and makes his life a living nightmare. Many of these incidents happen in public spaces within the school, such as the cafeteria. The cashier in the cafeteria, who is an adult, knows this goes on and says nothing. While Matt also doesn’t report any of the incidents, not one adult within the school, including the principal who claims she keeps an eye on everything, notices anything including the true fear that Matt lives with every single day.
The guys then begin a relationship and the writing style continued to have me completely disengaged. There was hardly any appropriate flow to the book. The boys are harassed by a homophobic elderly woman on the bus who starts yelling at them about “Nazis.” Then, there is one more act of violence that is off page and the police show up to arrest Shane. They don’t ask him any questions, they don’t bring him in as a person of interest, they immediately arrest him. Not a spoiler: he’s innocent. There was then a haphazard court scene that added to the mess and finally Shane enlists the help of the guy that has been relentlessly bullying Matt, which had so many issues and then we are expected to believe that all should be forgiven. The assault culprit was also obvious, but it was all truly lacking in execution.
I was bewildered that the combination of the dialogue and narrative was published the way it was as none of it was reflective of two American high school teens. The language made it impossible to engage with the characters and the overall plot fell short all of the way through.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.