Review: My Brother’s Keeper: The First Three Rules — by Adrienne Wilder

My_Brothers_KeeperOther Reviewers: Goodreads

This is an advance reader copy given to me by the author for an honest review.  As with all of my reviews, these are my own opinions.

Recently I have been in a slump for reading.  Real life has been extremely hectic, so my “reading for fun” has been very limited.  When I got the opportunity to read and review Adrienne Wilder’s series, My Brother’s Keeper (three books) I thought the plot line intriguing enough to fit into my life.

Basic Plot:

John Foster is a retired Marshall, and not by choice.  Now he is living with his life decisions and PTSD, wondering if life is even worth it.  A happenstance contact with Ellis brings color back into his life.  Can it make him yearn for something with this intriguing man?

Ellis Harper is a man who had to give his life up when his Mother died and left his mentally challenged brother, Rudy to take care.  He has given up on ever having a career or a relationship, after all, it takes all of his being just to keep Rudy out of trouble.

Yet, with this meeting comes both strife and a chance for both men to heal.  But will the forces around them allow it to happen?

Background:

The first thing to keep in mind with this book is that it is book one in a three book series.  The entire series is out, so never fear, you can read straight through.  Right now, I have only read the first book, so this review will only cover that portion.

I have already reviewed a book by Adrienne Wilder, 7, and really enjoyed it.  It was more of a sci-fi fiction and this one, to me has more of a serious, character driven storyline.

John Foster:

This is actually one of the view books when I have found both main characters someone in which I could identify.  Normally, there is an Alpha character that I really can’t identify with, but find attractive.  With John, yes, he is an Alpha warrior, but he is driven down by life experience and is left a hollow shell of himself.  We find him in the beginning of the story minutes from ending his life and it sets the tone (at least the beginning of the novel):

“Please.”  Guilt made the gun in Jon’s pocket heavier.  What if Rudy had walked up on him a minute later?  What if he’d been the one to discover Jon with the top of his head blown off?  Was that why he offered?  Was he trying to make amends for possibly scarring Ellis’s brother for life with the image of a dead man?  If it was, ice cream was a piss poor way to do it, but it was all Jon had.

Which, in John’s situation, you get the impression that his will to live has been trying to counter his need to be punished by death.  He is a complex character and by the end of the first book, there are still mysteries of him to be unfolded.

Ellis Harper:

We can relate to Ellis easily.  He has never had a serious relationship, because he has had to take care of his brother, and he has had dreams that will never come true.  We can all relate to the yearning for something better, but still driven to do the right thing by his brother.  We can also relate to the constant fear he lives with including gay and handicap bashing, threats, and fear that someone will take Rudy away from him.  Ellis is barely surviving.

He tugged the sheet up and held it to his nose.  Rich, almost spicy, Jon’s scent was enough to make Ellis hard.

If only.  There were always so many ‘if onlys’.

Day after day life slipped through his fingers, taking every opportunity with it.

Nothing changed for Ellis.  Today would be the same as tomorrow, next week, and next year.  While he wished for a different life, the concept terrified him.

We respect Ellis for his sacrifices and we yearn for him and Jon to make a relationship work.  What I love about Ellis’s reactions to Jon’s sexual advances is his own innocence as he lacks experience.  It is refreshing to watch the sexual tension unfold, not in the typical romance fashion.

Theme Summary:

 Ellis caught Jon watching Rudy and smiling.  Then he met Ellis’s gaze and Ellis smiled too.

Jon nodded at Rudy.  “You should bottle that and make yourself rich.”

“I’m afraid people might OD,” Ellis said.

“Not sure if you can OD on happiness.  I mean, Rudy seems to do fine.”

He did do fine and when Rudy was sad he recovered quickly.  It seemed only a few bad memories lingered in his simple mind.

Both Ellis and Jon struggle with their pasts and their present; neither finding joy in life to barely keep their sanity.  They need to understand the simple joy in life that Rudy has.  Live in the moment, don’t focus on things you can’t change.

Strong Points:

There are some very serious topics found within this book:  PTSD, attempted suicide, intellectual disability, gay bashing, and violence to name a few.  And yet, this book is filled with hope.  Hope that even with all of these challenges, there is hope and joy to be found in the living.

One point I would like to make is the brilliance of how Wilder writes Rudy’s interactions.  We get to see how exhausting it is living with someone who is intellectually disabled, yet joy can be found in the childlike vision that Rudy sees in life.

“The buggy is for the microwave and the groceries.”

“Don’t forget the oatmeal.”

“I won’t.”

“Can we get cereal?”

“I’ll think about it.”

“I like the cereal with the colored marshmallows.”

They headed to household goods.  “If we get cereal, it won’t be the ones with marshmallows.”

“Why not? I’m not allergic.”

A lady pushing a buggy frowned at Rudy.  Ellis pretended he didn’t notice.  “You know why.”

Rudy laughed.  “I remember now.”

“Shhh–lower your–”

“We can’t buy cereal with marshmallows because it makes my poop blue.”

We can see how tiring it is to have to constantly be vigilant with someone who has the mind of a 6-year-old but the physical body of a 35-year-old.  I really felt bad and admired how strong Ellis was.  He could still loved and nurtured Rudy even when he was frustrated.

What could be better?

There were times when the pacing was slow, and the head hopping between Ellis, Jon, and Rudy can be jarring.  We are left at the ending with a cliffhanger, so be prepared for that.  Another thing that annoyed me, while not the author’s fault, was the misleading length of the book.  It is a good percentage of the book at the end that are samples of other books.  So you are left thinking that you have more of the book to go than it truly is.

Conclusions:

Overall, I enjoyed this book.  I loved how the author got us into the minds of all three characters and made us feel their challenges, hopes, and fears.  We are left wanting more and luckily there are two books after this to complete the story.

 

Bea

Review: Pray the Gay Away — by Sara York

Pray_gayOther 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.

Basic Plot:

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?

Background:

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:

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.

Andrew Collins:

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?

Theme Summary:

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.

Strong Points:

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.

Conclusions:

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.

Bea