Author ~ James Stryker
Publisher ~ NineStar Press
Published ~ 8th May 2017
Genre ~ Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult, Transgender
Sam has his life after graduation figured out. Until then he has to deal with being terrorized for expressing his gender identity. His pleas for help have been ignored by the principal and most of the staff, and his time is spent moving quickly between classrooms and anticipating the freedom that will come with leaving high school behind.
Teacher Todd Keegan, at first, wonders if Amanda is on drugs and if he's underestimated her maturity. Between enabling his traumatized, dependent sister and hiding secrets of his own, Todd has no desire to waste time on a junkie teenager, but this one intrigues him. When Amanda shows up in his classroom, bleeding from a head wound, he decides to investigate further.
In order to survive senior year, Sam must convince Mr. Keegan that he’s not a junkie teenager and decide if, unlike his family and school staff, this teacher can be trusted with the truth and become his only ally.
Since starting to review regularly, I’ve been worried that I would lose credibility as a reviewer if I gave a glowing review to a book that was obviously flawed. I’ve tried very hard to be realistic and keep my own opinions secondary to objective fact, or at least to have one support the other. I don’t think I can do that with this book.
Objectively, this book has flaws. In fact, I think it’s probably broken all the “writing rules” at least once. The story loops and curves. The same situation is revisited at different times by different people, and perspective flows and changes, switching often to inner dialogue. This gives a strange “layered” approach that won’t suit everyone. The general structure could be better in places, there are some clumsy parts, and I’m sure all you authors and editors will find something to complain about.
BUT – this book is absolutely amazing. It totally blew me away and I couldn’t put it down. It’s been ages since I read such an honest, in-your-face, totally real book. The characters are unique, to the point you would be able to tell who’s speaking even without a single tag (which for the record there are). There were one or two places, when the story slips into internal dialogue that I was confused for a moment as to who it was, but it becomes obvious soon enough.
The story is weighty and raw and it would have been easy to switch into high voltage angst, but that’s not the angle the author took. Everything is calm and sensible and the one thing that shoots through the middle of it is how…well…sorted, Sam is. He knows what he wants. He knows what he has to do to get there and not even the fact that he might not survive the journey can stop him. He’s mature, wise beyond his years, desperate, stupid and…sigh, I love Sam. Sam would be the most awesome person ever to have as your best friend. He’s so serious in this book, but I’m sure given half the chance he could be a lot of fun. His humour is as dry as mine. And he’d always have your back.
Todd, I’m not so sure about. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a brilliant character, and it must have been a lot of fun writing him, but I have to admit he comes across as a bit of a dick. A likeable dick – mostly – but still a dick. I think he’d be a fun friend, too, but you’d have to work too hard. He’s the kind who’d tie you up with words and smirk as you struggle.
Julie, on the other hand is adorable. Too broken to be true but with flashes of how she used to be leading - like crumbs to the gingerbread house - to the inevitably surety she’d find her way in the end. What she finds is Sam, and his enduring stoicism in the face of horrendous abuse, both at school and at home. Once they made the connection, her eventual recovery was assured, even if it isn’t completed before the end of the book.
This brings us to the most delightfully awful characters I’ve read for ages. They’re like Disney villains, but not in a bad way. Scarlett, Sam’s mother, and Stevie, his brother are monsters. As the book progressed the images in my mind degenerated until Scarlett wasn’t human at all, but a slime monster, oozing from bedroom to sofa, while Stevie became part human, part TV and part demon, with razor teeth and green goo dribbling down his chin when he stuffs Cheetos into his mouth (I hope I don’t need to mention they weren’t written like that). Amazing characterisation.
There were many, many places where the book could have descended into sensationalism or become preachy (well it did, but only when some of the characters are bubbling over with righteous bullshit) but it resists and “keeps it real” to the end.
In short. Read this book. That is all.
Connect with James Stryker
James Stryker is a central-Pennslvania author who enjoys writing speculative and literary fiction. Themes in his work focus toward diversity in the LGBTQ spectrum and the voice of underrepresented or misunderstood viewpoints. His debut novel, Assimilation, was released in 2016.
James shares a residence with a pack of pugs, who continue to disagree about the ratio of treats to writing. Despite his day job and writing projects, James is never too busy to connect with readers or other writers. He welcomes you to check out his website, follow him on social media, or drop a line to his email.