Jakub knows he is prone to dark periods—times when it all becomes too much and karma knocks him down. It’s times like these that he escapes to his bedroom, dives under the covers, and tries to make the world disappear. It’s been happening to him for a while, ever since his mother disappeared from his and his dad’s life so many years ago. Now, home for summer break and gearing up to start his third year at college, Jakub is helping his park ranger dad take care of the campground and adjoining land. The day Jakub meets Jeff Brucelli changes everything. Gone is the loneliness and boredom as the two guys spend nearly every moment together. Suddenly, Jakub feels more settled and in control, and it’s all due to Jeff and their instant attraction that evolves into something more. But karma’s not done with Jakub yet and a family tragedy takes Jeff away, but that is not going to stop them from pursuing what they feel between them.
As the next two years of college unfold, much will happen to Jakub and Jeff. More tragedy will hound both young men, but their relationship will only strengthen. They will come out to their families, watch those they love succumb to the darkness of depression, and fight for the right to be together. In the end, Jakub and Jeff will weather every ill wind together and come out stronger and more in love.
Let me begin by saying that Jere’ M. Fishback’s sobering new adult novel, Jeff, Karma, and Me, should probably come with a warning label for suicide. If you are triggered by that, you may want to tread carefully as the scene described is fairly graphic and I found it upsetting. However, I do understand that this story was a microcosm for Jakub’s own battle with depression and deep seated anger toward his mother and so the scene was valid. The feelings of abandonment that were never resolved when Jakub was younger really mess with his head as he gets older. He feels like a strong wind could knock him off course and it often does. When Jeff appears in his life, Jakub starts to feel better about himself. His self-esteem grows and his belief that he is strong enough to handle whatever life dishes out expands exponentially—a good thing as karma is going to try to derail these guys over and over.
I really liked how Jakub changed in this novel. I grant you it takes some really serious situations to make him finally see the light, but still, he matures from them and doesn’t let them push him back into mind-numbing depression. He gets help in the form of counseling, a really great aspect of this novel; I was so happy to see that happen. Jakub and Jeff together were pretty realistic. They slowly grew closer and while they started off with a pretty open relationship, that changed as time went on.
So what kept this novel from a higher rating? Well, it was a few things. First, there was an overabundance of lengthy descriptive prose that often killed the pacing of the story. From things like a discussion of the scenic view, to what people wore, the author tended to throw in a multitude of useless information that could have been left out. Just when I thought the plot was going to move forward, there would be another passage about what flora or fauna grew in the area the main character was currently visiting.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t alleviated by the interspersed dialogue. Instead, actual conversations between Jakub and most characters, except his dad, seemed off—stilted and strangely formal, at times, for a college student. So often in a story, the main characters develop a certain cadence to their speech—a tone that makes them familiar to the reader and evokes emotions as well. Not so for this book. I just couldn’t connect to Jakub, mainly because he had such a different way of expressing himself, one that didn’t mesh with a guy who struggled with his self-esteem and depression. For me, Jeff was much more down to earth and believable.
Overall, I felt this novel, Jeff, Karma, and Me, really needed a good editor to help guide the author’s storytelling. I think there is some real talent behind this writer, but this novel is not the best example of what I think this person can create. I will look for other work by Jere’ Fishback because I think there is real potential in their writing.