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“There’s nothing wrong with trying to get to know my son’s boyfriend.”
Skylar knows he’s lucky to have an open-minded father. It’s not just that Skylar and Rafael are both boys. Between their families exists a dark and turbulent past: Rafael’s father was the first serial killer in the history of the Nettlebush Indian Reserve, and Skylar’s mother was his last victim.
Skylar is ready to put the past behind him. But Skylar’s future is tenuous at best. Skylar is still a ward of the state, and foster care can take him away from the reservation at a moment’s notice. Voiceless and powerless, Skylar learns firsthand what it means to be a Native American in the 21st century. And when Skylar stumbles across his father’s best-kept, twelve-year-old secret, not even Rafael can shield him from the fallout.
Looks Over is the sequel to the excellent Gives Light, a story about 16-year old Skylar, whose mother (now deceased) was Caucasian and his father is Shoshone Indian. After his father suddenly disappears, he is brought to the Shoshone reservation to live with his grandmother. There, he learns about his heritage, about the tragic events that killed his mother and took his voice, and about the brooding young man Rafael who Skylar finds himself drawn to.
Looks Over starts right when Gives Light ends. Skylar’s first summer in Nettlebush is over, things are good at home, and he and Rafael have a sweet, growing relationship that’s tender, but not explicit. (This is a very YA-level romance; it’s at the lovey, hand-holding, kissing stage and is very “safe” to give to YA readers.)
Unlike Gives Light, which had some underlying tension related to the murder of Skyler’s mother, Looks Over has a more “slice-of-life” feel as we travel with Skylar throughout the year, going to school, traveling to pauwau festivals, meeting with Rafael and his friends, and living with his father and grandmother. The latter part of the novel has the most tension in the story as Skylar’s father is a fugitive who can’t leave the sanctuary of Nettlebush without getting arrested, and Skylar is still a ward of the state, so is at risk of being removed at any time from the place and people he thinks of as home.
It’s that theme of love, family, heritage, and acceptance that underlines the story, and Skylar is forced to come to grips with some new truths, and what they mean for him, his identity, his family, and his future.
Christo’s writing is very evocative, and you get a strong sense of the places where Skylar lives or travels to. Christo also excels at creating diverse but believable and sympathetic characters, from Skylar’s wonderful pistol of a granny, to his taciturn father, to grumpy but gentle Rafael, to his friends Annie and Aubrey and the overall tight network of Nettlebush. Each character feels realized, and it’s easy to think of the Gives Light series as a retelling of a young man’s life, one who could be living right now, as opposed to a fictional story.
It’s a long book, at over 87,000+ words, and has a very relaxed pace through much of the story. At times, it can feel a little slow, but in the end, it’s a beautiful read about love and family.
I think the Gives Light series is pretty stellar YA, and would make an excellent addition to any YA library, especially for anyone looking for stories with LGBT leads. It makes me a little sad though that the series will have a very uphill battle getting into places like libraries because it’s self-published. (Self-published books in general have a much harder time getting into library systems, especially since they are often less reviewed in major periodicals, a resource that libraries often use to choose purchases.)
It should be there though. It’s a sweet, sensitive, lovely, touching story that also gives you a powerful perspective about what it means to live on reservations today, and how Native Americans are still struggling against some U.S. governmental systems that don’t always recognize the strong family support systems that do exist on reservations.
In that way, it is somewhat of an “issue book” (like the kind you would read in school), but the story is told well enough that you still feel swept up in Skylar’s story without feeling like you’re preparing for a pop quiz at the end.
Recommended, especially for those who like YA. You should read Gives Light first though. You may be a little lost if you don’t read the series in order.