When Aaron was small, he and his mother were abandoned by Aaron’s father. When Aaron’s mother opted out of parenting, they were taken in by the paternal grandparents who raised Aaron. Aaron’s upbringing was overseen by a patriarchal grandfather who was disappointed by Aaron’s inability to play sports and emulate the success of the rest of his family.
When Aaron is sent on a student exchange program to Costa Rica by his grandfather, Aaron returns not only physically changed, but emotionally different after living with a family who were loving and supportive. Shortly after Aaron’s return, he meets Danny Quintana, a newly qualified vet. Cross-country runner Aaron is invited to join the running club that Danny and his friends belong to and soon Danny is offering Aaron a part-time job at the veterinary clinic his uncle owns.
The attraction between the Aaron and Danny intensifies the more time they spend together, but on sharing their first kiss, Danny backs off after discovering Aaron is only seventeen.
Aaron’s eighteenth birthday brings changes as his relationship with Danny develops emotionally and sexually. Yet, Aaron has challenges ahead as he accepts the impact of growing up in his grandfather’s home and the fact that at some point he has to admit his sexuality to his family.
I chose There was a Boy for our Self Published Book Week reading challenge. I think there is a preconception that self-published novels are of a lesser quality than traditionally published ones, but I did not pick up on any grammatical or spelling errors in the novel. However, I did feel that Justin Durand could have done with a ruthless editor. This is obviously a very personal opinion, but at times I felt that the story dragged and that the heart of the message I thought Durand was attempting to communicate — Aaron and his acceptance of his self — sometimes got lost within Durand’s focus on romance.
There was a Boy is an important coming-of-age novel and I really enjoyed Aaron’s emotional vulnerability and the way in which Durand takes Aaron’s character on a journey. In just the first chapter, Durand clearly reveals Aaron’s hidden sexuality, the dominance of his grandfather, the changes Aaron has undergone in San Jose, and an outline of how Aaron’s childhood was. This is a lot for the reader to take in, but it is also a perfect way for Durand to set up the story that follows. The reader cannot fail to empathize with Aaron because of his upbringing and the fact that he has to keep so much of his identity a secret. I think this is the main reason why I welcomed Aaron’s new friendships with Justin, Matthew, and Danny and despite knowing that Danny has a reputation and there is an age difference between him and Aaron, I still wanted to see them find happiness.
In my opinion, another significant message that Durand sends in There was a Boy — apart from being true to yourself — is the importance of honesty in relationships. Aaron and Danny’s might be a fledgling partnership, but to move forward together they enroll in therapy. This is useful for them both — and the reader — because it allows Durand to expose Aaron’s emotional issues and forces him to deal with them effectively. Aaron has to do this by being honest about his home life, with Danny and those around him.
Aaron and Danny also realize that they have to be open with each other about their sexual relationship and although I originally thought that Durand concentrated too much on the sexual elements, I ended up laughing at my own naivete. These are young men and sex is a natural part of their exploration of each other and their romance. I think the intensity of their feelings is expressed during their sexual encounters, as well as exposing the fact that they need to talk honestly to develop their relationship.
In There was a Boy Aaron and Danny are supported by a selection of secondary characters. Although I wondered about Durand’s writing style and his use of some of these characters in the narration, they do give us a greater insight into Aaron and Danny by allowing us to view them from outside their romantic bubble. Whilst I wanted to dislike Aaron’s grandfather, I found I couldn’t because Durand subtly builds a picture of a man we should feel sorry for instead. I particularly enjoyed the contrast between Aaron’s family and Danny’s. The Quintanas are warm, caring, loud, and demonstrative. By welcoming Aaron into their lives they give him support, love and confidence.
There was a Boy may be a self-published novel but it is one I feel should be shared with readers because of its valuable content, which undoubtedly will reach out and touch the life of someone who picks the story up.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for Self Published Book Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win one of seven fabulous prize packs from an amazing group of self published authors. Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by Dreamspinner Press (a loaded Kindle fire filled with DSP books!). You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on Self Published Book Week here, including a list of all the prizes being offered this week. And check out our prize post for more details about the awesome prizes offered this month!