I like romance and boys loving boys in my books.
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A fabulous coming-of-age young adult novel dealing with some heavy topics and a mysterious fire at a movie theater that killed JJ's parents 10 years ago, this book delivered on its promise.
When we first open the book, JJ is not in a good place. He's defiant, morose and finds his life difficult. Damaged on the inside, he's living with his aunt, who gave up her career to take care of him. He's not allowed to see his baby sister Penny, who after the death of their parents is living with his mother's friend, Darryl, who doesn't approve of JJ's alleged drinking problem, and doesn't trust him around the little girl.
So, clearly JJ has issues. He has big issues, and no clue, what with being a teenager, how to move forward. He's plagued by dreams about the fire, and is determined, for the 10 year anniversary, to figure out who set the fire that killed his parents and many other people.
Oh, and he might also be gay. It takes JJ a while to figure that part out as well, once he meets McKinley, who's openly gay, and I was amused to see JJ's reaction and protests when McKinley shows interest in friendship. The fact that he's also Penny's tutor, and thus able to reluctantly supply JJ with access to his sister, unbeknownst to Darryl, showcased that teenagers are not always able to think their actions all the way through. It felt for a little while that JJ was using McKinley, but I also got the impression that McKinley knew what was up from the start.
At the forefront of this book is JJ, and his need to learn the truth, not just about the fire but also himself, and his parents. I was rather impressed with the author for not making this book about the romance (and there's a bit of that, including the obligatory awkward first kiss), but instead showing that LGBT kids are just like other kids, and shouldn't be defined by their sexuality. Good work, that.
There's also a doctor who has a part in this plot, as a father grieving the death of his child in the fire, and unknowingly helping JJ to get to the truth. JJ's long-suffering aunt also plays a prominent role in trying to help him find his way, and I liked all the supporting characters - even Darryl, who becomes much more than a caricature villain, and actually has reasons for her actions. Her son however is a piece of work, and needs to be smacked. Hard. Repeatedly. Darryl's husband finally gets involved in that, and things do get better.
The identity of the perp came completely out of left field, and I was extremely surprised. The climatic revelation had me on the edge of my seat, what with JJ running off impetuously without forethought into danger, but thankfully escaped unharmed.
The book ends on a hopeful note, with the truth finally out, and familial relationships beginning to be rebuild, leaving JJ to look forward to a future with McKinley.
As far as YA novels go, this was excellent. The writing is crisp and realistic for the age of the protagonist, and his characterization was complete and organically fleshed out. There is no infodump in sight, and we get information as we need it as part of the plot progression. The book's pacing is also well done, without any huge lulls in the action or big time jumps.
This book should be read slowly and carefully, so not to miss anything important. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did.
** A copy was provided by the author for review. A positive review was not promised in return. **