Rating: 4.25 stars
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Knowing what the right choices are and being able to follow through on them are two very different things—and Gavin Goode learns first hand the fallout from being forced into making a wrong choice. It all started when he inadvertently interrupted a gang-initiation-by-beating and got pegged by the gang’s leader as a loyal guy, the kind of guy who might be good for the gang.
The reality of being in a gang starts off extremely scary, but as Gavin goes about his role as a sort of enforcer—a gang member carrying a gun to protect a fellow gang member executing drug deals—it turns out to be less excitement than he would have thought. Hell, his gang mate turns out to be gay like Gavin and they end up making a romantic connection while waiting for their buyers to show up.
Of course, nothing could be that easy. The leader of the gang finds out Gavin and his cohort are acting their feelings and takes drastic steps to stop it. Namely, murders his own seller and frames Gavin for the crime. Being an otherwise good kid, Gavin tells the whole story to any official who will listen. For his honesty, he gets rewarded with twenty five years behind bars for murder from the criminal justice system and a big black mark by his name for being a snitch from the gang. To make matters worse, his cell mates just happen to be members of his old gang and they work night and day to make Gavin’s life behind bars a living hell.
The one bright spot is a mysterious visitor named Cato. He seems to know all about Gavin, the events that landed him in prison, the punishing retribution his old gang is exacting, and news from the outside. Even more mystifying, Cato offers Gavin a chance to get out of prison, even if only for a few minutes, so Gavin can visit his father, who was put into the hospital after being shot during his rounds as a security guard.
What Gavin learns from Cato and what Gavin learns about Cato set his world spinning. Amidst the hurt and abuse and anger and gross injustice of it all, here is this generous stranger who seems to want nothing more than to help Gavin. How far will Cato go to help Gavin? How far can Gavin push to get the help he needs?
One of the biggest elements in this story that drew my attention was the portrayal of a thoroughly broken American criminal justice system. It was both heartbreaking and enraging to watch Gavin’s history unfold and how a series of choices he was all but forced to make lead him into a bleak prison existence. Per the foreword by the author, part of this story was to draw attention to this very real problem and encourage readers moved by Gavin’s plight to consider taking action. Personally, the combination of romance story and social injustice very much appealed to me at this point in time.
Gavin is such a wonderfully tragic character. As an African American teenager, he knows the deck is stacked against him. Yet with the father’s careful guidance and a good head on his shoulders, Gavin believes he just may be able to make it without getting embroiled in any of the drama. Fate has another plan for him, however. He inadvertently gets recruited by a gang, the leader of which makes an offer he can’t refuse. When it gets out that he is gay, things go from bad to horrific. Gavin still has faith at this point, however. He turns snitch against the gang members. Only later does he find out that being locked up will not keep him safe from vengeful gang members, not the least of which because the guards at his detention facility are entirely complicit and people in places of power seemingly blindingly put their faith in what is considered stereotypical behavior. In other words, Gavin isn’t raped, he’s whoring himself out. Gavin isn’t beaten by his cell mates, he’s inciting violence.
Truly, the first several chapters can be tough to read, if only for that element of spirit-crushing nihilism. What is striking about the story is that rather than crusade for system reform, Gant throws the reader for a sci-fi loop. It turns out that Cato isn’t just a new guard—hard enough to believe that since he looks no older than teenaged Gavin himself—he is actually a time traveler from the next century.
If you are wary or turned off by futuristic stories, fear not. Cato is the sole anachronism in the story and virtually all the action unfolds in the present day. This may be to the advantage of the story mostly because, for being a shorter work, Gant can dedicate his full attention to the present-day story line and what’s happening with Gavin. The world Gavin inhabits is sharply, if cruelly, defined. Even the way some of Gavin’s clothing gets described helps establish the themes in the book. Cato and his watch are the only futuristic things the reader really gets to see.
As far as the time traveling goes, mostly this is done off page by Cato. Gavin naturally has a hard time accepting Cato’s explanation and I felt he may have acquiesced a bit too quickly. But both characters are young and attractive and Gavin overcomes his shock at learning about time travel. The two do discuss the implications of changing past events and how this is a huge no-no. Of course, this is exactly the precedent Gavin is aching to break when he realizes being able to change the past might save the life of his father. Even more interesting is how that issue gets resolved. It’s not exactly the happiest of endings, but the way everything plays out, Gavin and Cato have a shot at a HEA.
Moving onto the romance in the story. This is the one point where I felt a little let down. Of course I am pleased that Gavin and Cato meet and feel a mutual attraction. My inner drama queen loved how Gavin angsted over his STI (syphilis) from being raped and Cato considers it a nonissue (the STI was treated with antibiotics). As much interaction as these two have, I couldn’t help but feel like Cato’s attraction to Gavin wasn’t really built up into an emotional connection so much as it was just there because Gant wanted this to be a romance. Even as these events unfolded on the page, I couldn’t understand why Cato felt attracted to Gavin—it would have even been acceptable if it were a simple “Gavin is hawt! Ima climb that like a tree!” but it moved so quickly from like to actual, in Cato’s words, love that I just failed to see how it was really substantiated.
Of course, the easy explanation is that Cato is from the future and has had plenty of time to observe Gavin’s acts and behavior and fall in love from afar…but if that was the case, it wasn’t really much of a talking point on page.
Overall, this is an excellent read. It’s socially challenging, but doesn’t beat you over the head with any moralistic messages. The sci-fi aspect helps keep things from getting too depressing, even if it actually leads to some depressing alternate future possibilities. I think the combination of social issues and futuristic escapism is a great combination that makes this story worth a read.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.