Other Reviewers: Goodreads
This is an advance reader copy given to me by the author for a honest review. As with all of my review, these are my own opinions.
This is the second book that I have read by Sara York, the first one being a co-author romance with L.E. Franks called Prodigal Wolf. My interest in reading Pray The Gay Away, was the “coming of age” aspect of the story and hearing Sara York’s voice alone in writing style.
Jack Miller is the son of a Southern conservative preacher. Jack is a senior in high school, star football player hiding a huge secret: he’s gay. Knowing what would happen if his family and friends found out, he hides who he is from everyone. Enter Andrew Collins. Andrew’s family pulls him out of his Atlanta school because he was caught kissing a boy; the theory being that there are no gays in rural conservative towns like Sweet, Georgia.
Little does anyone know, that Jack and Andrew are attracted to each other. But can their love be enough to get them through this last year of high school?
It is hard for me to give a score for this book. Part of me says that if the author thinks that all Christians and Southerners act and feel this way, then I am greatly offended. On the other hand, if York is using this as a parable to demonstrate a point, then she is brilliant. You will have to continue reading to find out what I finally determined.
Jack Miller is someone we all wish we could have been in high school: smart, popular, and a talented football star. He walks down the hallways at school and people scream encouragements to him and praise like he is some sort of rock star. So we should be happy to be him, right? But what we find out is that he is trapped. Trapped in a life where he hides his dreams, his yearnings, and his inner self. This is not case of just the loss of friends, but his family and his future. If his family finds out about his homosexuality, not only would he be kicked out, his younger brother might suffer, and his college football career extinguished.
Early one we find out that his little brother, Billy, is obviously gay. Billy is only 7 years old. This quote demonstrates how Jack’s home environment is:
I know, buddy. It’s wrong and if Daddy could just laugh about it, everything would be fine, but he’s not going to laugh. He’s going to tan your backside, taking his anger out on you and there isn’t a damn thing any of us can do to change that. So Billy, please, from now on, try to be good.”
With this quote, we begin to see that things are not what they seem on the surface of this perfect family and perfect little town.
Now Andrew is someone that we can all relate. Not popular in school, his social pariahness(as an obviously gay teenager), we can understand his fears and his yearning to just leave and begin his life with honesty to self. However, he is trapped living in a house with his parents where they have tried to starve the gay away, and now they are going to pray the gay away. Andrew’s home-life is something out of Harry Potter’s Muggle family:
You’ve chosen a path of death. Your mother and I are here to make sure you make a different decision. We’ll pray that gay away if it takes a lifetime. You understand?
So we have family that is so F’d up, it is amazing that Andrew has survived up to this point. Think about this. If you had to suffer the things that Andrew does, would you be able to survive? Would you have run away, committed suicide, or just accepted the brain washing to make the pain stop?
Reading the book, I found the theme fairly early in the book. The author hinted at it in her forward.
After lunch he had astronomy and English literature. They were reading The Life of Pi. Growth through adversity was the central theme. It was his life, but he didn’t feel like he was growing.
I think that we are told growing up, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and while that might be true, we are not living in Sparta. This book makes the point that “Praying the gay away” or “adversity will make you stronger” might not get the desired result and certainly will not end in the way you think it will.
When I started reading male/male romances, it opened my eyes to the challenges out there for gay relationships. I am a white married straight woman, so the idea of me being discriminated for walking down the street holding hands with my white husband is 0%. It began to make me understand the horror and injustice for those who are in a gay/lesbian relationship. Can you imagine being denied simple human contact? This quote from Pray the Gay Away demonstrates this emotional and essential need:
There were days he wondered if he could sneak just one little touch. Just a little brush of his hand against another guy’s bare chest and not while there were nine other guys on the court playing basketball, watching his every move or on the field, where the entire town had their eyes on him. He wasn’t asking for much, not even a kiss, but he knew his desire was a bigger request than anyone, even God, could deliver from him at this time in his life.
Consider this, how visceral this description is and I dare you not to feel something.
What could be better?
As I read the book, more and more angst moments happened. Over dramatic, soap opera emotions and characters popped out of the pages. I started to wonder if the author was serious in her portrayal of these characters? I could believe in Andrew and Jacks and other characters, but both set of parents? No, those characters are simply too violent and black-and-white to be true. But then I sat down and thought of Westboro Church and preachers like Fred Phelps. Yes, clearly this is a small church with crazy ideas, but they do exist. So, I can give the author a break in portraying the parents like this.
And I honestly believe the author is moved to write this book as a warning and parable about bullying of gay children/teens. Her forward is clear:
This story is from my heart, and hits close to home. I find it disturbing that all too often kids are tossed aside or discounted when their parents realize they are gay. For far too many young teens the bullying and lack of parental support is too much and they think they have nothing to live for. There are far too many kids in the world who face pressure because they are told they can pray the gay away if they try hard enough.
So, I believe that this is more than just a coming of age story about two gay teens. This is a wake-up call to all of us, Christians or not, that there are children out there that need our help and our support. If you see teenagers out there who are suffering for just being who they were meant to be, help them. Support them.
Now, there were a few things that took this from being a perfect book for me. There was a lot of angst, and while it helped to prove a point, I did get bored in sections. Yes, they are being emotionally and physically abused, but move on. I think if you have no problem with an agsty book, then you will be fine. I also did not like the abrupt ending; I hate cliff hangers! But, this is my issue, not the author’s.
This is only book one in a three book series, so be prepared to wait until the end of the series for a conclusion. I plan on reading all three books and will do a review on the last one as more of a “series review”. I think I will be able to have a well rounded review for that.
I do encourage everyone who is a LGBTQQ supporter to read this book. You need to understand what many (not just southern christian) gay children and teenagers go through. For some, suicide or running away is the only answer. This book makes you understand how they feel and should motivate you to do something. So go out there, donate time or money to homeless shelters, youth camps, or other LGBTQQ based programs.
You are blessed with support from your friends and families (blood or bond created). You survived your teenage years, but for some, they do not have the support to get through those years. Pray the Gay Away is a book that should open your eyes to this issue and motivate you to do something, even if it is just a little. Well worth the read.