Author: JP Barnaby
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
From the Publisher:
A Survivor Story
I can’t describe what it’s like to want to scream every minute of every day.
Two years after a terrifying night of pain destroyed his normal teenage existence, Aaron Downing still clings to the hope that one day, he will be a fully functional human being. But his life remains a constant string of nightmares, flashbacks, and fear. When, in his very first semester of college, he’s assigned Spencer Thomas as a partner for his programming project, Aaron decides that maybe “normal” is overrated. If he could just learn to control his fear, that could be enough for him to find his footing again.
With his parents’ talk of institutionalizing him—of sacrificing him for the sake of his brothers’ stability—Aaron becomes desperate to find a way to cope with his psychological damage or even fake normalcy. Can his new shrink control his own demons long enough to treat Aaron, or will he only deepen the damage?
Desperate to understand his attraction for Spencer, Aaron holds on to his sanity with both hands as it threatens to spin out of control.
Powerful, harrowing at times, Barnaby’s Aaron walks the reader down the narrow, rock-strewn road of recovery for two broken young men.
Aaron has survived an ordeal worthy of a horror movie. He is so badly broken that he sees no future for himself. His parents, John and Michelle, work heroically to maintain some semblance of normality in their lives, but it feels false. Aaron’s life is one of nightmares and meds.
Spencer is also a survivor, but of a different kind of trauma, a physical disability that leaves him isolated and friendless. His father, who has supported him and cared for him all his motherless life, seems to be slipping into alcoholism, adding to Spencer’s sense of being alone. He distracts himself with online sex and the occasional meaningless hookup.
It takes a long time before Aaron meets Spencer, as the two boys start their freshman year at a local college. This extended exposition is exhausting and, frankly, a little grim. The eighteen-year-olds’ lives feel pretty hopeless, in spite of the best intentions of others. But when they finally do meet, something really good begins to happen, and Barnaby starts to unfold the story of their journey, stumbling as it is, with an emotional intensity that moved me deeply.
I loved the way that Aaron’s parents were both essential and essentially helpless. Clearly they are loving people, committed to sacrificing everything for their son; and yet they fail because they have lost the ability to see outside their self-drawn protective circle. Likewise, I appreciated the way that Spencer’s father, the more damaged parent, becomes the catalyst for hope in spite of his own problems.
The relationship between these two boys offered the greatest pleasure I had in reading this book. Barnaby makes Spencer’s desperate loneliness palpable and believable; and hence his willingness to forgo fleeting physical pleasure for the emotional happiness that Aaron provides. Conversely, Aaron’s halting movement from darkness to light is drawn with such agonizing dexterity that it just feels right.
Aaron brings to mind Kiyoshi Tanaka’s 366 Days, which deals with an equally damaged boy finding his way out of darkness. Unlike that book, however, the more explicit sexual descriptions remove this one from YA status (although 18-year-olds could certainly read it). There is one scene early in the book, an encounter with a delivery boy that, while expertly written, changed the way I initially perceived Spencer. I understand why it was there, and I can see why it might be important in terms of helping the reader see Spencer more three-dimensionally; but it somehow felt off to me, slightly gratuitous, as if Barnaby was throwing a bone to her audience.
There is no big happy ending with a choir of gay angels at the end of this. What there is, however, is a glimpse of potential future happiness that seems impossible at the beginning. There are unresolved issues that might suggest a sequel, but while I would surely read it, Aaron stands alone, complete.
I would like to thank Dreamspinner Press for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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