I like romance and boys loving boys in my books.
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Gosh, I wanted to love this book. I mean, read the blurb - the bullied kid who's spent his days hiding from everyone slowly falls for the gentle giant at the high school they both attend, until an act of violence threatens to tear them both apart... yeah, I signed up immediately for the ARC.
And for the first half or so, this book held me in its grip, as the story between Matt, the bullied kid, and Shane, the gentle giant, unfolds, as Matt begins to trust Shane, as they fall in love and forge a path together.
Yes, sure, there were some issues with the dialogue, which I attributed to the author not being a native speaker and not living in the US so research into how teens talk these days would have been tricky. And yes, sure, the principal pontificates to Shane when he first starts about there being a zero-tolerance policy at the school, and yet she has no idea that Matt has been bullied for years, hiding in corners, shaking and utterly miserable, terrified, in tears, something that even the cafeteria cashier has noticed, yet the principal has no clue - how's that possible? And why wouldn't the cafeteria cashier talk to an adult at the school? Many of the bullying incidents happen in hallways or inside the cafeteria, and yet nobody addresses it.
Still, it was engaging, and was invested.
However, right about the time, Matt is beaten up and ends up in a coma in the hospital, this book took a massive nose-dive. The asshole detective that arrests Shane for allegedly causing Matt's injuries (he didn't), the subplot with Shane engaging Matt's long-time nemesis to find the real perpetrator, the court date, the dramatic last minute rescue by Shane's former friend, the drama with Matt's mother's reaction to Shane's size, the nasty old woman on the bus, and, and, and - it was just all too much and too over the top and too unrealistic in how much was piled on Matt and Shane's shoulders.
Look, I got that the author tried to make the point that one shouldn't judge a book by its cover, i.e. a teenager by his size and tattoos, but good grief, that point wasn't just made so much as hammered home time and again. And Shane, whom I adored, just took the judgments time and again, making all kinds of excuses for people's reactions to him. I hated that he did that. I hated that people would judge him just based on his looks and not his actions. For Matt's mother to think that Shane had hurt Matt, for anyone to think that Shane would hurt a fucking fly just because he's super tall, just pissed me off.
And yeah, I knew who the villain was going to be, but the reasoning behind the violent attack was pathetic. The perpetrator's characterization up to that point didn't indicate anything like what was given as a reason - I didn't buy it at all, and thought that it was just too convenient.
I loved both Matt and Shane, and I loved how gentle Shane was with Matt, and how Matt came out of his shell over time, and became the stronger one of the two. Their relationship was well done, and the author did a fantastic job bringing across the emotional bond between the two young men. What I didn't like so much were the multiple incidents of miscommunication and false assumptions that both of them make, but I chalked that off to them being young.
I think it can be very difficult for a non-native speaker to successfully write authentic dialogue as language continually evolves, especially in this day and age, and that the manner in which teens talk cannot be gleaned from, say, books, TV shows, or movies.
The premise was fantastic - the execution not so much. Still, three stars is nothing to scoff at. I did enjoy reading this book for the most part, and I did love Matt and Shane.
** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher. A positive review was not promised in return. **