Author ~ Nick Wilgus
Publisher ~ Dreamspinner Press
Published ~ 22nd February 2016
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
Sequel to Stones in the Road
Years have gone by since the death of Noah, his special needs son, and Wiley Cantrell realizes it’s time to move on. He and his husband, Jackson Ledbetter, try to adopt little Tony Gorzola, a deaf boy with HIV who is emotionally traumatized.
Difficulties quickly set in. Tony is a sweet boy but very damaged by abuse and neglect. And Tony’s mother, in prison, is unwilling to relinquish her parental rights. No sooner do they get the go ahead to foster Tony when another child they had considered becomes available—the daughter Jackson always wanted.
With two children on their hands, life is complicated—wonderfully so. But just as things begin to settle down, Tony, his immune system compromised, falls ill with pneumonia—and Wiley and Jackson find their little family faced with crisis once again.
A portion of the proceeds from this book are being donated to the Kentucky Youth Law Project (www.kylpinc.org), whose goal is to reduce homelessness and promote legal protections for LGBT youth in the state of Kentucky.
Books just don’t come better than this. “Go Tell it on the Mountains” is a gay book, at least in the fact that the lead characters are a married gay couple. But it’s not a Romance. There’s no sex. But there’s an enormous amount of love in this book about family, surviving loss and second acts. This is the third book in the “Sugar Tree” series, perhaps the final installment, and a memorable tour-de-force. Not only is the book well-written, it’s brilliantly-written. There are more meaningful human emotions per page than all but a few of the hundreds of works of gay fiction I’ve read and reviewed over the last several years.
I like that there is no overt sex in the book, because it leaves so much more real estate for plot, character development, surprises, passion and exploration of the inner world. It’s also remarkably authentic. It rings true. And that’s no mean feat for a book that revolves around children. There’s no condescending to the young, no adult voices coming out of children’s mouths. This authenticity is critical to the power of “Go Tell it on the Mountains”, because books about special-needs and orphaned children are always at risk of devolving into bathos, manipulation and silly sentimentality. Not this book. Not this writer.
Mr. Wilgus has a deep and heartfelt concern for the children who fall through the cracks of a fault-ridden society. As this is a topic dear to my own heart, I am happy to see first-rate authors, like Mr. Wilgus, address them with the kind of passionate and literate beauty he does in “Go Tell it on the Mountains”. He leavens heartbreak with humor. He balances the pathos of sick and abandoned children with a host of colorful characters who often are deeper and more caring than they first appear.
There are two main characters, Wiley Cantrell and his husband, Jackson Ledbetter. They are an unlikely pair. Jackson comes from great wealth among the Brahmins of Boston. Wiley, on the other hand, was raised by a family of modest means in rural Mississippi. Where Jackson's parents are rich New England sophisticated liberals, Wiley’s family comes from several generations of the Deep South, rigid believers, quick to judge, slow to accept, and less than ideal for a young man navigating a gay identity still considered anathema in that part of America.
In the previous books, Wiley and Jackson found each other, saved each other, and raised Wiley’s son, a special-needs child. Noah was a meth baby, born with a host of birth defects, but also an indomitable spirit and an infinite capacity to love. He only made it to thirteen. His death destroyed Wiley and nearly crushed Jackson, who bore his pain stoically, unlike the more volatile Wiley, who spent six years in unendurable grief. In an attempt to deal with his unrelenting pain, Wiley launches a second career as a writer, putting his love and pain down on the pages of a pair of best-selling books. He’s driven to “Go Tell it on The Mountains”, so all can witness his joy and grief, and more important, experience the love these exceptional children bring to people whose hearts and minds are open enough to accept and return it.
As the book opens, the couple is trying to move on. After all this time without a child to care for, and perhaps hoping to fill the void left by the death of their beloved Noah, they are about to foster or adopt a new special-needs child. Tony is a lonely, and perhaps unlovable, child of a mother who was a drug dealer, until she managed to blow up their house and escape without even trying to rescue the deaf five-year-old she left behind to die in the conflagration. She’s in prison. He’s in a state-funded institution. He’s terrified of people, his development years behind his chronological age, forty percent of his body is covered with scars and he’s HIV-positive - which is a bit of a mystery since his mother is not. He’s seven when Wiley and Jackson meet him. He’s been in and out of special schools, always failing to achieve even the most rudimentary success, either in academics or social interaction with the other kids. He’s also beyond the “cute” age that potential adoptive parents prefer – not to mention that he has a host of issues that would be difficult for any family to deal with.
But, after raising Noah, these two young men are the perfect couple for the adorable Tony. If they can’t reach him, no one can. They fall in love with him immediately.
That’s where the book really begins. Everything before Tony enters their lives is but prologue. The author does a masterful job of walking us through the arduous, and sometimes discouraging, process of gaining Tony’s trust, of giving him the safety and unconditional love he’s never had. To complicate matters, Wiley and Jackson take in another child, a child orphaned by her mother’s untimely death, and Amelia becomes an integral part of bringing Tony back from terror and abuse, into the arms of a loving family – a family of choice, a family of unconditional acceptance and love. Mr. Wilgus handles this so delicately and expressively that I was often left in awe of his astonishing writing skills:
“I’d always been of the opinion that you should have a balls-to-the-wall sort of attitude when it came to love. If you’re going to do it—and I think you should—then you might as well jump in feet-first and have the time of your life. Love extravagantly. Give it away. Walk around naked in your living room. Hold nothing back. And throw in generous amounts of forgiveness and patience, and don’t be surprised when your heart breaks. Because it will. But maybe it breaks because it’s trying to get bigger, trying to break out of its confines, trying to grow and mature.”
One of the great joys of this remarkable book is the richly-drawn, nuanced secondary characters, particularly the wealthy and opinionated Eunice Ledbetter, Jackson’s mother. Just imagine The Wicked Witch of the West, with her tongue planted firmly in cheek. While in Boston Children’s Hospital keeping vigil at Tony’s bedside, Eunice urges one of the others to accompany her to the hospital’s cafeteria:
“We’ll take you to the cafeteria, dear,” Mrs. Ledbetter said, taking my mother in hand. “They have a wonderful selection of utter and complete rubbish here. And you can go straight from the cafeteria to the emergency room, which is one of the nice things about this place. And a very necessary feature, if you don’t mind me saying so. Projectile vomiting is not unheard of in this particular cafeteria… but I’m a strong woman. I believe they have a row of stretchers just outside the cafeteria for those with weaker constitutions.”
I don’t know how I’ve missed Mr. Wilgus all this time. He is an amazing talent who has written a series of amazing, big hearted books that may well leave you in tears, but better-off for having read them. “Go Tell it on the Mountains” is a perfect example. Don’t miss this one; it is a reading experience that will remain in your heart and memory, for a long, long time after you finish reading it. This is not a good book - it is a great book.
Shaking The Sugar Tree
Wise-cracking Wiley Cantrell is loud and roaringly outrageous—and he needs to be to keep his deeply religious neighbors and family in the Deep South at bay. A failed writer on food stamps, Wiley works a minimum wage job and barely manages to keep himself and his deaf son, Noah, more than a stone’s throw away from Dumpster-diving.
Noah was a meth baby and has the birth defects to prove it. He sees how lonely his father is and tries to help him find a boyfriend while Wiley struggles to help Noah have a relationship with his incarcerated mother, who believes the best way to feed a child is with a slingshot. No wonder Noah becomes Wiley’s biggest supporter when Boston nurse Jackson Ledbetter walks past Wiley’s cash register and sets his sugar tree on fire.
Jackson falls like a wet mule wearing concrete boots for Wiley’s sense of humor. And while Wiley represents much of the best of the South, Jackson is hiding a secret that could threaten this new family in the making.
When North meets South, the cultural misunderstandings are many, but so are the laughs, and the tears, but, as they say down in Dixie, it’s all good.