Every night before bed, Kevin taps the picture of Robbie he keeps on his nightstand three times to stave off the nightmares. Nightmares where he still holds the bat with which he nearly beat the young man to death for being gay. He remembers the kicking, the punching, the screaming… It’s only because Kevin is a minor with a clean record that he isn’t sent to jail. Instead, he is given a second chance. Get a job, or find some other activity to keep himself out of trouble, or go to juvie. Since no one’s hiring, Kevin takes a chance and auditions for the latest teen play: The Importance of Being Ernest.
Certain he isn’t going to get the part, Kevin can barely bring himself to look at the call sheet, which makes it all the easier to look at the young man standing in front of him. Peter Finn, with his fancy car and dark hair, who doesn’t want to play games. He makes it clear to Kevin that he’s interested and, taking a chance, Kevin lets Peter know that he’s interested right back. From their first kiss to their fourth, it’s love at first sight. Unfortunately, Peter isn’t the only one with eyes for Kevin.
This is a story involving both a gay bashing — in which Kevin took part — and a rape. The sexual assault scene is over in a sentence; it’s not graphic, but it is present, and is the focus of much of the story as Kevin has to decide how to handle the situation. It is not merely there as a catalyst; it’s a part of Kevin’s life and how he and those he cares about handle this situation is dealt with both realistically and respectfully.
Kevin, 16 years old, lives in a small, close-minded town where a teacher was fired for letting her students know it was okay to be gay. The kid he helped beat up was targeted because he was gay. Knowing that he has liked boys since he was 12, Kevin has always had to hide that part of himself, from his “friends” — who he no longer associates with — his father, his teachers, everyone. Even when he’s with Peter, the two of them still have to hide their sexuality. When Kevin is raped, it’s that same fear, the fear of being exposed, that his rapist uses to control him.
Peter Finn is the son of the richest family in town, a family of old money and new power, and as such, he has to uphold the respectability of his family. He can be gay all he wants so long as no one knows and he settles down with a nice girl and produces some pretty children. He’s also bound by duty to his sister who is autistic and needs Peter to support her. But Peter doesn’t want to live with his parents forever and doesn’t want to marry a nice girl. He wants Kevin, who is witty and charming and sweet, Kevin who doesn’t want his money. The pair have an easy chemistry that comes across both on stage as they play their characters — two men who are the best and oldest of friends — and as they play themselves.
The story, and the relationship, are told primarily from Kevin’s point of view. He’s very aware of the disparity of their situations; Kevin’s father is an ex-con, a single dad unable to find work who struggles to put food on the table, while Peter is the heir of the Morse family with a father busily working as CEO of several company properties. Even so, the money never gets between them; how could it, with a perfect, wonderful, forever lasting first love? What does come between them, though, is Les, and when Kevin is finally able to tell Peter why he keeps freezing and flinching, why he keeps jumping at shadows and doesn’t want to take the shortcut through the park, Peter decides to take matters into his own hands. Kevin doesn’t say a word to stop him, and he’s not sure he wants Peter to stop. He’s relieved someone cares, and that Peter isn’t disgusted by him. There’s a very small part of Kevin that thinks maybe he deserves what Les did to him for what he did to Robbie.
Kevin goes through a great deal in this book. It’s not just the sexual assault and the trauma that comes with it, it’s the situation with Robbie, too, and coming out to his father. It’s finding an adult to confide in and confronting his own self-doubts and uncertainties. Even though he feels honest guilt, Kevin still did what he did when he helped beat another young man, and will have to live with that. He’s insecure and uncertain of his own worth. After all, his own mother abandoned him and Peter’s family looks at him like he’s scum. Fortunately, there are people who care for Kevin and are there to support him. Kevin’s problems aren’t cured by the end of the book, and even Kevin knows that he and Peter — as first loves for each other — might not last forever, but for right now … they’re in it for infinity.
I enjoyed this book and its positive message, and the little touches scattered throughout were charming — such as Peter and Kevin counting their kisses together, or Peter doing the house cleaning. The happy ending is a bit too easy, and the dark bits are never too dark, but this is a YA book. I appreciate the author’s encouragement, given in the form of parents and supportive adults, for therapy, not just to deal with the sexual assault, but to deal with all of the guilt and the confusing mixture of feelings Kevin has regarding … well, everything. It’s a quick, easy read with a good message and good characterization.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.