A young boy faces the consequences of intolerance and toxic masculinity after falling in with the wrong crowd in Hunter’s debut YA novel.
Fifth-grader Noah Henderson comes home one day to have his mom introduce him to Brett, his “new father,” whom she says he should call “Dad” from now on. Very soon afterward, Noah is uprooted from Palm Springs, California, and dropped into the rigid, conservative world of Utah Valley, Utah. His life suddenly includes harsh spankings from Brett, four hours a day reading the Book of Mormon, and constant pressure from his mother to help mold an image of a perfect family in church. However, three young boys in his Sunday school class—Nick, Chase, and Andrew—see to it that Noah will never be a “perfect” Mormon child. Noah begins to adopt their rough mannerisms, hurling rocks at cars and tormenting those they see as effeminate boys in his class. Nick’s transgendered sister soon introduces the boys to pornography, and the kids’ rough interactions quickly turn to brutal sexual abuse. Soon, Noah is a traumatized rape survivor, desperately trying to hide from the cruelty of other children in any way he can. He quickly learns that the price for trying yet again to fit into such a hostile world can be devastating. At first, it seems inevitable that that novel will follow Noah as he grapples with his own homosexual feelings, but then the story takes a surprising turn; in its second act, he becomes both a helpless victim and a perpetrator of bigotry, and Hunter handles Noah’s tortured thoughts well. However, the book stumbles in the final chapters, failing to create a satisfying conclusion to the fascinating paradox at the center of the story. Noah never embraces himself as an outsider nor rallies with other victims, as in Stephen Chbosky’s similarly dark 1999 high school drama The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Instead, Noah’s isolation and obsession with his tormentors persists until the very last page. The book, unfortunately, makes the very same mistake that Noah does, by giving too much power to his bullies.
A coming-of-age story with an admirably complex setup that leads to disappointing conclusions.