Milo Connelly is a mild and unassuming senior at lowly Crick High in Port Orange, Florida, a suburb of Daytona. He’s a well-esteemed member of his Presbyterian church, teaching in the youth classes because he aspires to become a teacher—even if he assumes his strict and religious parents might find that a low aim. Milo’s dearest friend, Vanessa, who goes by Van, was a member of the church, but stopped going a few years ago—falling out after her mom’s bitter divorce and the less-than-helpful advice offered them by the former pastor. She’s not actually welcomed in Milo’s home, though his parents do not forbid their friendship. Honestly, Van is Milo’s only friend, and he keenly feels what a socially isolated life he lives. Milo refers to himself as a turtle. And, he’s certainly not ready to stick his neck out of his shell when a blast from the past, Marcos Price, turns up at Crick.
Marcos met Van and Milo at bible camp three years ago. Marcos and Milo were roommates, and Milo soon realized that Marcos’ vocal atheist beliefs made him an instant pariah at the camp. So, he befriended Marcos, rather than allowing him to be lonely, and they included Van in what activities they could, as well. Still, there was plenty of roomie time spent bonding over Golden Girls reruns, Milo’s favorite show. And, when a mini-disaster in the room had them sharing a bunk, Milo was just being a good friend. Unfortunately, their growing intimacy had Milo experiencing novel, very unusual, and—to his mind–borderline unacceptable, feelings about Marcos. After two weeks, Milo was ALMOST so out of his shell that he could have kissed Marcos. That is, until Marcos disappeared without a word with a week of camp left. Milo was sure he was yanked away by divine knowledge of the unsavory desires Milo had developed, and he repented as best he could, deeply disappointed in himself and distraught that his new friend was gone. So, Marcos, having now moved to Port Orange from Orlando is an unwelcome reminder of the trauma Milo suffered back then. And, well, Marcos is as stunningly beautiful, and irreverent as always. Milo is struggling to accept Marcos as a friend, which is complicated by Van including Marcos on their hangouts. And Milo can’t even get any peace at church, because Marcos’ dad moved them to Port Orange to become the church’s treasurer. So, avowed atheist Marcos is in the pews every Sunday.
The intersection of Milo and Marcos’ lives isn’t only emotionally traumatic for Milo, it seems to be causing a cosmic disturbance as well. The first day of school while they’re off-campus having lunch, a sinkhole develops in the school parking lot where Van’s car had sat before the trio departed. And, later while attending his first-ever party, only because he’s trying to prove he’s not such a goody-goody, a drunk-ish Milo admits some of his secret crush to Marcos who’d confessed his own attraction. Which is followed by a massive blackout. Sure, all a coincidence, until they have a near-miss of lethal proportions while attend a GSA-sponsored dance at a nearby high school. Milo is sure that God is punishing him for falling for Marcos and that Milo’s unwelcome desire for another boy is so at-odds with God’s plan that he’s hurling all sorts of disasters in their path to avert it.
It’s all a huge metaphor, however, for Milo’s own self-hate and self-sabotage, feeling that he’s letting his parents and church down by experiencing a fulfilling attraction for Marcos. He’s afraid to confront his truth, and to reveal his truth once he accepts it, because he doesn’t want to lose his parents’ love. Nor does he want to lose Marcos again, and Marcos’ father is radical enough to threaten gay-conversion therapy when he gets an inkling that Milo and Marcos have something deeper than a friendship brewing.
This story took a lot of unexpected twists, what with the natural disasters, revivalist showdowns, and a rather traumatic coming-out experience. There are moments that really made me pause, because Milo is such a heart-on-his-sleeve narrator and his pain is so acute. I was honestly scared that this was all going to go very wrong. I was also worried about the internalized homophobia Milo suffers and how that might affect young and questioning readers. Milo’s journey was one of necessary self-love, and once he fully embraced himself, he became a much more powerful character. Marcos is the rock he needs, a bulwark of acceptance and love that will allow Milo to climb up, stand higher on his own two feet. I loved how Van supported and held Milo’s hand, sometimes literally, as he rose beyond the darkness of his self-hate. Interestingly, the current minister of the church is not a hate-monger, and he gives Milo and Marcos counseling that is compassionate and affirming. It is the membership of the church that have some issues to resolve, notably Marcos’ overbearing father.
I feel like this is a good, but tough read. It’s YA, and has age-appropriate situations, including alcohol use. Expect affection and some light physicality, but none of it graphic in a “romance” way. There is definite emphasis on the emotional journey, especially for Milo, and the ending is decidedly happy.