Gene Gant is one of my go to authors for really well crafted young adult stories. I find that this author tends to tackle tough issues and rarely gives his characters a pass on dealing with the fallout of whatever life throws at them. Despite that, the novels are never bleak or the endings without hope and this author’s latest release, Borrowed Boy, stays true to those norms.
Zavier Beckham has a pretty good life. While his parents aren’t rich, he still has just about everything a thirteen-year old could want, including a best friend named Cole. What’s even better is that Zay likes his parents—especially his firefighter dad. Life is good, a hot Memphis summer is in session, and Zay is doing ok—until the world falls out from beneath his feet. In the blink of an eye, Zay finds out that his parents aren’t who he has always thought they were and that the home he loves is about to be taken away. Faced with the new reality that has quickly become his life, Zay will experience bullying unlike anything he ever has before and begin to lose sight of who he is now that the life he knew has crumbled. Add to that the fact he is gay and trying to come to grips with it and it all becomes just too much for poor Zay to handle.
Without giving up too much of the plot, Zay’s life has pretty much done a 360 in the blink of an eye. Now, finding out he is to be shipped off to Chicago to live with a different family, including a brother who seems to hate him and has no problem showing it, Zay is really lost and diving down fast. I felt a bit disconnected from this story and, in many ways, that was okay because that’s exactly how Zay felt. However, what I grappled with was how mature Zay was in handling the idea of leaving the only parents he ever knew to go live with virtual strangers.
From the idea that he acquiesced so easily and refused to really fight to stay, to the way he slipped into the role of long lost son, it was just a bit too much to view as realistic for me. It was the little things that niggled at me, like his always putting the pain and fear of his biological family over his own confused feelings. I felt a typical thirteen-year old, having raised two of them, myself, wouldn’t be quite so agreeable. I get that shock played a factor, but I also feel that kids his age would act out more—fight against having his entire life uprooted and destroyed. I also felt that at his age the court would have had more interaction with him privately to determine just how devastating this shift would be for him. Instead, within two weeks his entire life is uprooted and he is shipped halfway across the country. It was done so fast and so neatly it made my head spin.
I really have enjoyed this author’s work, but this novel left me pretty confused and unsatisfied. I wanted to take just about every character and shake them from the parents who seemed intent on not really acknowledging that Zay’s life was falling apart, to the brother who’s about face near the end of the novel just plain rang untrue and unrealistic. The premise of this story was a really good one and there were many nice elements, such as Zay’s new friend, Brendan, and his story, which was interesting and well done. I do think, however, that the novel needed more time to develop to allow for Zay’s emotional arc to really be believable and fully fleshed out.
Borrowed Boy was a good idea that needed more page time in order to be a really impactful story about a boy who was dealt a really bad hand in life and how he manages to survive it and come out okay on the other side. Had that happened, this review would have been more of a suggestion to pick this one up and give it a go. Fans of Gant’s work may find this one just a little too unfinished to stand out among the other fascinating stories he is known for delivering.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.