Author ~ Mark Zubro
Publisher ~ MLR Press
Published ~ 1st September 2016
Genre ~ Contemporary, Young Adult M/M Romance, Mystery
Two high school boys try to survive amid death and danger in the desert, while hoping for the possibility of first love.
Shane Semereau wants to be left alone to read his books and carve his wood sculptures in the warm desert. His life is a swarm of confusion and violence, but he wants to be a force in making the world a gentle place. He grasps at those dreams. Cory Garcia is a bundle of electric energy who lashes out at everyone and everything, but loves to let his mind go in the world of dance. Amidst great danger and looming violence they find each other and unite against all that is arrayed against them at every turn.
I don’t quite know what to say about this book. Did I like it? Yes, and no.
The book is written in first person perspective by a self-aware teenager who talks directly to the reader. To be fair, he does come across very much as a teenager and could resonate with other teens – maybe. Personally, I think the author tries too hard and I’m not sure that teens will be fooled.
One thing I didn’t like was when the narrator tells us he can’t be bothered with proper grammar, hence giving the author a get-out-of-jail-free card. I’m not personally one for following rules, grammar or otherwise, but I think this went a bit too far. Saying that, the grammar wasn’t terrible.
The story is hit-and-miss. There are some good elements, some not so much.
I very much like the way Corey and Shaun come together. At first, they don’t seem to fit at all. Shaun is the quiet, geeky, worry-wort; Corey is the bad boy who doesn’t know why he is as he is. Their first steps together are clumsy and tentative then take off like a rocket. They go from zero to sixty in no time and that’s exactly how it should be with kids their age. They’re beyond cute together and I rooted for them from the start.
I also love the way the author describes Shaun’s woodworking – how lovingly he carved such intricate and delicate things, under the watchful and patient gaze of his crush, Kurt. The scenes in the woodworking room are truly gentle and at counterpoint to the violence that abounds in the rest of the story.
The school environment and the kids’ day-to-day lives are well drawn and believable, if somewhat brief and sketchy, and this is where my problem lies. There are so many elements to this book. Corey and Shaun. Shaun and his woodworking. Corey and his dance. Shaun’s relationship (or lack thereof) with his school and fellow students. Shaun’s relationship with his family. His father’s illicit dealings. His brother’s illicit dealings. The gangs. The murders. For me, there’s too much going on.
I don’t like the way the book is written and that is very much a personal thing. It isn’t badly written, by any means, but it isn’t to my taste. That’s not to say there won’t be plenty of fans. On the whole, the story is gripping and interesting with a good core cast of characters who are – overall – well drawn.
Where the book really falls down for me is that I feel the storyline is needlessly complex and there are so many threads it was impossible to keep them all in order. Furthermore, many of the threads are either never resolved, or not resolved in a way that Is readily understood. Why were the teens being killed? What was the big secret Jay was hiding – or was thought to have been hiding? What was the police involvement? And so much more.
Overall, the book has an intriguing and interesting, if confusing, story with a strong cast of characters and an unique voice; one which isn’t personally to taste but is undeniably fresh and could be a selling point to other readers. I would strongly advise readers to read a sample of the work before buying the book to get a flavour for the narrative first.
I would recommend this as a strictly young adult adventure with a touch of romance, although I definitely wouldn’t class it as a romance per se.