Rating: 3.25 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

Achilles is a Greek-American teen who was wrongfully imprisoned in a Texas juvenile facility for two years, and now that he has been released, he’s going to stay out. In order to satisfy the terms of his release, Achilles needs to earn his GED and qualify for the state greco-roman wrestling championships. His father’s a low-life, but his mom is a huge supporter of Achilles, praying day and night to the old gods for his deliverance. However, Achilles is a surly, foul-mouthed, out-of-shape boy who’s grappling with expectations beyond his current abilities–as well as with his sexuality.

I’ll be honest, I got drawn into reading this book due to my own personal connections to elite wrestlers. There aren’t that many books with wrestlers as main characters, and I was intrigued. Plus, I’m a big fan of Greek mythology and have read so many of those stories with my kiddos. Unfortunately, the wrestling descriptions in this book are as much fantasy as the wilder parts of this story, so that was disappointing. On the flip-side, I was honestly charmed by the weaving in of ancient mythological gods–updated for today’s teen queer audiences–setting great tasks in Achilles’ path.

But, wow, this story goes every which way, and loose. Achilles develops an unexpected attraction for the sweet, geeky, undocumented Mexican immigrant tutor, Jesus–who’s a victim of grave injustice locally, but also legally. So, Achilles nearly beats some gay bashers to death defending him–and nothing really happens to out-on-parole Achilles for this? His cousin is a rapist bully, and…no consequences? Instead, the rapist gets the adulation he craves? His “girlfriend” Carla cyber-bullies Achilles, and later outs him on social media…but no repercussions? It felt like there was a metric ton of injustice the characters perpetrated on one another, with no intervention or consequence. This undermined Achilles’ arguments against the penal system, which felt diminished and less immediate because they were retrospective.

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this story. On one hand, the narrative voice was strong and compelling. I was immediately inside Achilles’ head in a way that really felt unique. But, I still had a hard time understanding who Achilles was meant to be–with his polyglot skills and his incredible intellect. I know he was wronged, deeply, by his dad, but I struggled to find a lot of sympathy for him due to his (inexplicably) simultaneous arrogance and self-loathing. There’s a lot of casual racism and fat-phobia going on in Achilles’ mind and with his family. I think it was meant to be edgy and provocative, but there were times it felt over a line, even for a teen boy’s inner monologue.

In terms of pacing, Achilles’ long explanations of minutiae burned page time, and I lost interest more than once waiting for him to get to the point. For example, the merry chase to fulfill the quest Hades set before him got murky, quickly. I didn’t understand how Achilles’ actions actually satisfied the agreement, because his convoluted explanations had me re-reading. By contrast, the parole conditions wrapped up conveniently quickly in a way that cut the tension too soon. Most of Achilles’ struggles seemed to happen in his own mind and heart, which seemed out of character for the parallel hero he represented, a warrior of all brawn and fight.

This is a YA story with some fade-to-black sexual moments. There’s also on page use of alcohol, sex toys, recreational drugs, mafia ties, brutal and violent beatings, extortion, and sexual assault–all of which had me questioning the age classification. It’s a wild and imaginative story, and while I enjoyed some of the plot twists, it’s a book I wouldn’t probably pick up a second time.