Joey knows one thing: he must get the little boy out of his basement sanctuary and back to his own home. How Joey will do that without knowing where the six-year-old lives proves to be very difficult. Plus, he knows how mad Pa will be when he checks the video and sees what Joey has done, but that’s okay; a beating may not be fun, but after, maybe Pa will give him something to eat or even a new video to watch so everything will be alright…or so Joey hopes. But it all goes wrong when he’s spotted by a woman jogging and all hell breaks loose, ending with Joey being roughed up by the police and arrested for a variety of trumped up crimes. But the nice lady lawyer is determined to help him, even though she asks so many questions. Still, Joey finds himself telling her what happened seven years before and that’s the moment Joey’s life changes forever.
It was ever so easy to find a great example of a diverse book for our 2019 Reading Challenge Month. Author Gene Gant is well known for creating interesting characters with diversity in both ethnicity and background and he does so again with his latest story, Golden Like Summer. I want to be careful here for Joey’s story has three distinct parts to it, but I think to give you much detail on why that is so would give away too much of the story that you will definitely want to discover on your own should you decide to pick this one up to read. Instead, let me focus on the “everyman” aspect of Joey’s character and what I feel is Gant’s stunning ability to get inside the mind of a teenager when he crafts his stories. Also, be aware that if abuse, sexual and physical, is a trigger for you, this novel is based on some merciless events that reveal such behavior.
It turns out that Joey is an amalgamation of a few real life individuals as Gant tells us in his afterward. But there is much more to this boy than just those threads of reality. Joey is every boy or girl who has been a victim of sexual and mental abuse. A kind of brainwashing happens to young children when they are stolen by predators and this author treads carefully, exposing just enough of a similar situation to give the reader a horrifying glimpse of what that life may be like. But instead of making Joey angry or broken beyond repair, the author molds him into a young man whose first inclination is to save others like himself and forgive those who did him wrong. It is an interesting choice to make and it really works well inside the frame of the story this author weaves.
There are no easy fixes for Joey and circumstances lead him back into the streets again, this time to discover there are other boys in worse straights than himself who he wants to save, and one of those is Desi. (Just a quick aside here, Joey is African American and Desi is Latino—again the diversity of characters is just excellent!) Desi differs from Joey in many ways, including why he is out scrabbling for a way to live, and we see the ugliness of teens living on the streets. Whereas Joey seems to have a safer life, albeit still filled with danger, but blessed with at least a decent way to make money that keeps him fed, Desi is selling his body and has fallen under the thumb of a violent pimp. Things look bleak for Desi until Joey saves him and, in many ways, Desi will be the catalyst for Joey to begin healing and that is the real magic in this novel. Gene Gant doesn’t just expose us to the vile truth that many teens face, he gives us hope that some will make it. He assures us that sometimes the system will not fail them—that people will be kind and decent and the teens resilient enough to survive despite the pain they have had to endure. That is the beauty of a Gene Gant young adult novel.
Golden Like Summer may seem a bit idealistic in regards to Joey’s character, but it also reminds us that if we choose to make a difference, lives can be saved. It is a positive message in a time when we need as many of those as we can get.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for Diverse Books Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win one of six $20 NineStar Press gift cards from the fabulous folks at NineStar Press! 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 Diverse Books Week here.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.