I don’t normally put the trigger warning at the beginning of my review, but I think this particular book requires it. This story involves a school shooting and the event is written out in detail, covering both the physical violence — blood, death, and injuries — and the emotional toll it takes upon the students and faculty. Many readers may find it uncomfortable. Personally, I did not find it to be gratuitous, but it is graphic. For the young men in this story, Brian and Landon, it is an event that changes their lives forever, and that’s what the story is truly about: Brian and Landon, how they come together, how they overcome, and how the tragic event they suffered turns them into the people they will become.
We don’t get to know Brian and Landon before the shooting, because who they were then isn’t who they’ll ever be again. For Brian, the pain of the event echoes in the small touches, such as Brian being aware of how vulnerable he feels in the middle of crowded rooms, or how sudden, unexpected noises make him jump. Even something as small as having the blinds open in his room — the chance that someone could see in, could somehow reach in and hurt him again — it’s a thought that won’t let him go; it’s his new reality.
For Landon, he’s furious. His school, his friends, his life, all of it tainted in some way, hurt in a soul-deep way by two careless men with guns. Landon isn’t hiding away, he’s out there, trying to find … not a purpose and not an answer, but perhaps some sort of control. To take action, to do some good, to find a way to —- not salvage, because that says something is broken; maybe to replant, like a garden hit by a storm, make something good come out of the chaos. He can’t get back the lives of the people who were killed, but he can try to do something for their memory, and for all the kids who will come after them.
Brian and Landon noticed each other before (and both might have had a smidge of a crush on the other), but they cannot help but be drawn closer now, considering Landon quite literally held Brian’s life in his hands as he tried to keep the other boy from bleeding out. Landon feels protective; he wants to be there for Brian, to help him, to comfort him … and Brian feels safe with Landon, safe in a way he doesn’t feel even at home in his own room, anymore. It’s not just the thought that he might be gay and having feelings for Landon, either. Brian is scared all the time, and angry. Landon is one of the few people he can talk to, who can share his outrage and his trauma.
Sometimes, lying in bed with him in the afternoons, looking into each other’s eyes, it felt like we were two people alone on a life raft in the middle of the ocean. Only our ocean was grief— grief and pain and anger and hopelessness. A damn turbulent sea. And maybe that’s why we clung so hard.
School shootings have become a political event, as well as a national tragedy, and I’m not here to comment on them. I’m here to talk about this book, a book which has an opinion on school shootings and gun control. The views of the main characters are to the left of center and painted in a positive light, while another character — Brian’s father — is to the right of center and is painted in a less than flattering manner, calling the school shooting a “false flag” while talking about crisis actors and the deep state, as well as wearing a MAGA hat. The shooters in this story are also painted with a very red brush; they are homophobic bullies with no empathy or guilt. There will be those who might be offended by such a depiction. There will be those who think this is the right portrayal, and there will be those who do not care. But keep in mind if you decide to read this book that it has an agenda and a point of view and it does not hold back with either.
I gave this book five stars because of the writing, the characterization, and the delicacy of its message. Yes, there is graphic violence, but it is handled with respect. It is an event that forever marks the characters, and the transformation Brian, especially, goes through is humanizing. He’s not a saint. He’s a kid. A hurt, angry, and scared kid.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for Older/Younger Hero Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win one of FIVE $20 JMS store gift cards from JMS Books! Commenters will also be entered to win one of our three amazing Grand Prize book bundles. You can get more information on our Challenge Month here (including all the contest rules) and more details on Older/Younger Hero Week here.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.