Title ~ The Geek and His Artist
Author ~ Hope Ryan
Publisher ~ Dreamspinner Press
Published ~ 4th June 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M YA
Simon Williams spends his lunch periods drawing his geek and trying not to think about the terrors waiting for him at home. He needs to get away from his abusive father before he suffers the same grisly fate as his mother. Because he's learned the hard way running away doesn’t work, he’s counting the days until his eighteenth birthday.
Jimmy Bennet should be spending his lunch studying so his senior GPA is good enough to get him into college, but he can't seem to focus thanks to his distracting artist. When he’s given the opportunity to tutor Simon in Trig and discovers Simon’s home-life nightmare, he wants nothing more than to get Simon out of danger. This need becomes more urgent when Simon comes to school the Monday after their first date with bruises, but it takes a broken leg before Jimmy can convince his boyfriend the Bennets really want him.
But the danger Simon thought was past shows up at the most unexpected time, and he must stand up to the fears he’s held so long to protect not only himself, but the man he wants to spend his life with.
Difficult, Moving and Beautiful
As far as I can tell, this is Ms. Ryan’s first book published on Amazon. I certainly hope it will not be her last. I was so taken with this beautifully-written, vivid and confident novel that I went looking for anything else by this talented author. I was disappointed not to find any other full-length novels, but equally excited to see what she comes up with next.
This is a difficult story, a story about young adults, months away from high school graduation, their families, and the horrible abuse one of the main characters, Simon, suffers at home from his single-parent father. Simon is a talented and promising artist, but socially inept and constantly fearful, as well he might be, considering that his father, the alcoholic, often-unemployed loser whose only pleasure in life is torturing his son, treats him as a slave, an object of derision and a punching bag. Simon’s mother died, some years ago, in the midst of a violent confrontation with his father, who was not charged because, like so many abusers, he was adept at manipulating the system, and convincing those responsible for both justice and the safety of children that he was a sweet victim of his insane wife, just as his son was a frequent victim of terminal clumsiness. Or at least, that was the excuse for his many visits to the hospital with his injured son. Child Protective Services failed, once again. Simon grew up too terrified of the man he refers to as “The Bastard” to tell the truth to the authorities. Of course, it didn’t help that since he was fourteen (or younger), the man had terrified him with stories of the physical and sexual abuse he would endure, in the system, if he ever reported his father or tried to run away. Simon did run away, some years ago, but, of course, the police brought him right back home to his abuser, to face his worst beating ever.
Simon is terribly damaged, living in fear of almost everything, imprisoned in his father’s home, forced to cook and clean for him and punished (and often denied food) for an endless variety of imagined slights and failings.
So it’s almost a miracle that he manages to sustain a crush, from a distance, on the gorgeous, 6’ 5”, gentle giant that is Jimmy Bennett, a geek of epic proportions (if his T-shirts are any indication). Jimmy already knows he wants to be a teacher. He gets such pleasure out of sharing information, out of seeing the light bulb go off, at making even the most difficult and dense subjects simple, clear and understandable to someone wrestling to wrap his or her brain around them. Simon doesn’t even think Jimmy is gay, but the two occasionally share a broad smile across the dining room at lunch, and at occasional accidental encounters in the halls or the library.
Everything changes when Simon goes to the tutoring center for help with his trigonometry class. He can’t imagine why he’s having such difficulty when he’d always done so well at math, even Advanced Algebra, but just can’t seem to “get” trigonometry. The tutor, of course, turns out to be Jimmy. A couple of hours alone with the gorgeous, smart young man, and he begins to really get a handle on the subject that, if he fails, would jeopardize the art scholarship he needs to pay for college next year.
It’s not just trig he gets help with in the relatively brief tutoring session, but, unexpectedly, his entire life. The two boys fall in love, that day, though neither would think of saying so. I mean, this kind of thing just doesn’t happen that fast. Although, in Jimmy’s family it seems to happen all the time. His wonderful parents met in high school, fell in love on the spot, married shortly after graduation and have had a loving, happy marriage for more than twenty-some-odd years. Jimmy’s older sister, Amy, did the same with her boyfriend Dirk, and they’ve been happily married for more than seven years.
The boys’ families could not be more different. Simon, raised in fear and pain, despised and exploited by his father, plagued with violence and twisted by endless assaults on his self-esteem, can’t even conceive of the words “family” and “happy” in the same sentence. Jimmy, on the other hand, raised in a loving, warm household, where everyone has respect for one another, openly demonstrating their mutual affection, enjoys an easy, confident life, always sure of his family’s love and protection.
When these boys fall in love, something has to give. And it does, when Simon’s father breaks his ankle with a baseball bat. Jimmy is determined to get him out of that terrible house, and away from the endless abuse inflicted by Simon’s father.
Jimmy’s family backs him up. They beg Simon to move in with them. They assure him that no one has to suffer that kind of abuse and that he would be cherished and loved, like their own child, if he would just agree to move in with them. Simon has no frame of reference. He can’t imagine why any family would be willing to take him in, why any normal family would want someone as damaged and undeserving as himself. But Jimmy’s horror, anger, protectiveness and love convince Simon to tell the Child Services caseworker the truth of how he received his injuries and of his years enduring similar acts of violence.
Jimmy’s love sustains him, and gives him a glimpse of what life might be like. The Bennets accept him with open arms and show him what a family could and should be. Still, he is plagued with nightmares and insecurities and terrified that his father will show up and damage or kill Jimmy and his family, not to mention himself.
The largest part of this book is dedicated to the daunting challenge of helping Simon heal, of giving him a safe space, security and love. Jimmy is almost insane with his need to help, and that causes some issues with Simon, who doesn’t want to be dependent, and is terrified that once he is not so needy, Jimmy will no longer love him.
This book is about family abuse and surviving it. It is particularly meaningful since the abused boy happens to be gay. As if it’s not difficult enough to survive the challenges of just growing up, gay kids also have to deal with the unnecessary and painful burden of homophobia. But “The Geek and His Artist” is also about loving families, who treat each other with humor and open affection and willingly provide the patience and understanding required to help a loved one recover from long-term physical and emotional abuse.
The author admits that she likes obstacles, happy endings and stories with gay characters. Trust me, there is a reason her first name is Hope. In fact, that’s what I liked most about the book. There is stomach-turning abuse for which you will feel terrible anger, but Ms. Ryan always holds out hope, kindness, compassion and love as the antidotes. Both boys’ high-school friends are accepting and kind, and Simon’s integration into the Bennett family will move you to tears – the kind of tears you get when witnessing acceptance and unconditional love first-hand.
Ms. Ryan is a perfectly wonderful writer, delivering characters, descriptions and dialogue that are full-blown, vivid and deeply developed. Despite the difficult theme, there was not one moment in which I wanted to put the book down. In fact, I read it twice, which is most unusual for me. The depictions of the badinage between family members, including the embarrassment at frank discussions of very personal matters with one’s parents will have you chuckling with familiarity.
“The Geek and His Artist” is a well-conceived and beautiful book. Don’t miss it. I give it my highest rating and my heartfelt recommendation to everyone who wants to read a moving, gentle, insightful book that’s ultimately, all about love.
Meet Hope Ryan
Hope Ryan is an out and proud bisexual, wife of a loving guy and mother to three, including an amazingly brave gender fluid son. She loves to write about the tough stuff, but also wants to see her characters happy in the end. She feels strongly about showing there is hope for everyone, no matter where you come from, how you identify your gender or who you love.
Hope likes to play board and card games and can often be found playing God with her Sims or running around, fighting monsters in a virtual version of Middle Earth. Her TV and movie preferences lean towards anime, sci fi and fantasy, though she’ll never turn down a good happily ever after love story, either. As long as there are explosions or action, she’s happy. She loves to read books of all kinds, though prefers stories about love in its many forms.