Author: Mark Zubro
Publisher: MLR Press
Cover Artist: unknown
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
In an unsafe world, death and danger stalk gay teens, Roger Cook and Steve Koemer.
Roger Cook is in the middle of his senior year when Kyle Davis, the most picked on kid in his high school commits suicide. Roger agrees to write an article on Kyle for the school newspaper. As he gathers information, Roger realizes the dead boy was gay and may have been murdered. Gay himself, Roger wants to find out the truth, but this leads him to danger and the possibility of love. Roger opens himself to even greater risk while trying to make those around him safe.
Of the two real main characters of “Safe,” Mark Zubro’s latest YA LGBT novel, one of them is already dead. Everybody else is secondary, and while that’s a bit of a problem, it’s not enough of a problem for me not to recommend this book highly. Zubro has written an interesting, compelling and tightly plotted murder mystery all wrapped up on the angst of a coming out story.
Kyle, a sad lonely kid that nobody in Roger’s high school seems to have known, has killed himself. Rumor has it that he was gay, and Roger, who’s gay himself but not out to anyone, feels compelled to write about Kyle’s tragic death for the school paper. In his quest to unearth some sort of truth about Kyle, he stumbles into an increasingly appalling saga of neglect and hostility, culminating in a harrowing scene of violence more upsetting because of its context than because of what actually happens.
There are many familiar themes in this book, and I’ve read hundreds of gay-teen YA novels. Chief among them is the failure of public high schools to protect the most vulnerable students, and the startling hatefulness with which teenagers can treat each other. You’d think it would have changed since I was a teenager in the early 1970s, but no.
Roger, jock and journalist, is a wonderful character. We learn a great deal about him as the narrative unreels through his eyes. We like him, and come to care for him as he feels his own way forward toward redemption and love.
But nobody else in the book comes close to being this three-dimensional, including Darlene, his best friend on the school paper, and Steve, the quiet editor who increasingly becomes the focus of Roger’s interest. Both of these people are important to Roger, and I desperately wanted to know them better.
Zubro falls back on archetypes for most of the characters, and it’s too bad, because Roger’s best jock friend Jack almost emerges fully and is a tantalizing figure. To me the saddest lack, as is all too often true in YA books, is the cipher-like quality of Roger’s parents. Roger tells us that he loves his mom and dad, and his twin sisters, and his quirky and interesting grandmother—but we never really get to see why this is so. Roger’s family plays an important secondary role in the narrative, and I really wish they’d been more fully fleshed out, because their journey is as familiar to me as Roger’s, and is worthy of closer exploration.
All that said, this is a good book, worth the read, and enjoyable from start to finish. I can almost see a sequel in there.
I would like to thank the publisher 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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