Smart, handsome, athletic Gil Marsh, 17, hero of this contemporary take on the Gilgamesh epic (and first literary bromance) thinks he has no competition. Then hirsute Enko Labette shows up at Uruk High.
More than Gil’s equal, Enko’s popular, too. Infuriated, Gil provokes a physical confrontation that clears the air and, as the cliché provides, cements an intense, lasting bond between them. As in the epic, Bauer offers hints but ultimately punts on whether that bond is sexual. (Both date girls, but the boys’ passionate friendship is paramount.) After a few brief adventures, Enko succumbs to a sudden illness and dies. Grief-stricken, Gil flees high school in Connecticut for Canada, seeking Enko’s grave and the provenance of the garnet ring, a family heirloom, Enko gave him. Here the plot slows to a crawl. Though interspersed with evocative tidbits of Québécois history and culture, Gil’s quest, goals and expectations lack urgency and clarity. Does he really believe he can restore Enko to life? Enko himself fades into irrelevance as Gil’s focus turns to daily survival. Simple vocabulary, staccato style and straightforward syntax convey classic appeal and make this a good choice for reluctant readers. Genuine strengths include a likable hero and vivid sense of place.
What’s ultimately lacking, though, is a compelling link between myth and contemporary tale. (French glossary, author’s note) (Fiction. 12 & up)