In Read’s (The Go Between, 2012, etc.) latest YA novel, a teenage boy struggles with his memories of childhood sexual abuse as he begins to navigate the world of dating.
High school sophomore Kyle Cook loves kicking field goals for his high school football team but beats himself up when his skills prove to be merely decent. His self-esteem has never been the same since he was sent five years ago to stay with his physically, sexually and emotionally abusive aunt while his mother recovered from a devastating car crash that killed his father. Kyle never breathed a word of his abuse to anyone, but it’s led to strange behaviors; for example, he assumes that it’s normal to hide in the bathroom and secretly watch his younger sister, high school freshman Shelly, shower after swim practice—until she catches him one day. When his mother sends him to see Mrs. Sabia, a tiny elderly counselor, he’s surprised that he’s so comfortable with her and opens up about his feelings for the first time. As he begins to hold himself accountable for his own actions and heal his relationship with Shelly, she sets him up on his very first date with her friend Jessica. However, as Kyle and Jessica’s relationship develops and they begin experimenting with sex, his memories of his past trauma threaten to destroy his ability to have a normal relationship. Although a number of other novels, such as Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak (1999), explore the lasting effects and long healing process of sexual abuse in young women, very few YA authors tackle the unique, delicate struggles faced by young men in similar situations. Read effectively manages to get to the heart of Kyle’s struggle to reconcile his traumatic experiences with the pressures of being a teenage boy, who’s been conditioned by his friends’ and teammates’ hypermasculine ideals. Some readers may find that the storytelling lacks subtlety at points, and the depiction of teen culture seems a bit dated; others may take offense at characters’ mild use of homophobic language. Overall, however, they will find this a unique and compelling story.
A beautifully honest depiction of a teenage boy’s difficult path to healing.