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Dresden Marich has failed out of high school three months shy of graduation. He’s infatuated with his online friend, Evan, alienated from his family and former classmates, and still trying to recover from his father’s death six years ago. He’s also keeping a troubling secret about his older brother, Gunner, who is away at boot camp.
Then Dresden meets Caleb, a judgmental environmentalist who’s hardly Dresden’s fantasy come true. But Caleb seems to understand Dresden’s desire for rough sex, big feelings, and, ultimately, safety. As Dresden becomes embroiled in a farmers market drama involving Caleb, a couple of bullying tomato enthusiasts, and a gang of vigilante vegans, he discovers he might be willing to trade a fantasy relationship with Evan for a shot at something real with Caleb.
But Dresden fears telling quick-to-judge Caleb his secret, and the news that Gunner is coming home sends him fleeing to California for a chance to meet Evan in person and hopefully fall in love. When the encounter doesn’t go as expected, Dresden faces a choice: stay in California and carve out a new life, or take the long road home to his family, Caleb, and a past he must face if he has any hope for a future.
Geez, this kid, with his heart that is so big and full of aching hurt and longing. This kid that grips you into his world and captivates your curiosity. This kid that deserves so much but has been given a damn big load of crap by life.
This kid (MC Dresden) has so much depth; so many subtle traits that say so much about where he’s been and where he is now. So many delicate nuances giving light to his darkness. so much I bow down to JA Rock who has written him so well. Created such a strong narrative voice for him. His voice doesn’t falter. His despair is always present. His intentions are always clear. Perfectly deep and clever. >insert quote that shows his depth that’s been highlighted< and numerous examples of the character’s constant struggle with life because of trauma. That gets me. That woos me. And he’s just a kid. Sure he’s 18 years old, but he’s still so young. He’s got all these fantasies that fill his mind that keep him hoping and yet fearful at the same time. And he has this resilience and introspective that only someone who’s grown up with hardship (reads: trauma) tends to have. Ugh, I marvel at him.
And Caleb (love-interest). Dear God, Caleb with his dark, mysterious, generous, complex ways. He keeps himself veiled to a great extent but he’s written in such a way that you can always sense the demons that plague him.
And I have to tell you that the way Dresden’s mother is portrayed is perfect. Her actions and behaviour are spot-on. One moment you’re wondering why she’s being so odd and then a little later you think to yourself of course she was behaving that way. Of course!
And it’s filled with wonderful contradictions. There’s a constant desperate darkness and despair on Dresden’s part one moment, and then like a little gift every so often, there are sparks of cheeky wit and buoyancy. It’s the perfect subtle (and somehow obtuse) tet-a-tet.
And, and, and…
I think this book is so good, so powerful because of how honest and heartbreaking the story is. But a sad story doesn’t make a good story… It’s in the way that this feels real and raw. It’s a “no holds barred” story telling. It’s written in first person POV and unlike lots of people, that really works for me and helps me connect with a character. Couple that with ever-present emotional fragility; scenes that burst at the seems with their gentle humility; tiny little gestures that show so much about the characters.
I wish there was an epilogue – not because I need a different ending (nor am I saying that the ending wasn’t satisfying – because it was) but it’s just that when you connect and care for characters as much as I did/do for these ones, you end up wanting more. Lots more. The only reason I’m not giving this gem of a book 5 stars is because I felt the second half of the story didn’t hit me quite as hard as the first…
But in the end I’m left feeling grateful because it was such a great ride… Also, there’s some part of me that truly feels as though there’s more left to this story; that there’s more of these characters and their lives for us to hear about, because ultimately they are too rich and wonderful to simply fade away as though they weren’t as special and kind of real-like as they were.