A fiery tale of emerging diversity in backwoods Georgia and the challenges of countering religious intolerance.
Jack Miller is a handsome, popular high school football star in Sweet, Georgia. At 18, he’s been harboring a secret he can no longer hide, even if it threatens to deeply infuriate his large, ultraconservative family. As the son of a staunchly homophobic, conservative pastor, he’s just waiting for high school graduation and the call of freedom found in his attending a state university. Enter Andrew Collins, a thin, scruffy high school senior whose parents hurriedly relocated the family from Atlanta to Sweet, figuring a change of scenery (coupled with some extreme aversion tactics) would cleanse their son of his homosexual yearnings. Upon meeting, the boys’ instant attraction fuels a forbidden passion that blossoms into a clandestine relationship. After another schoolmate frustratingly comes out to Jack, a major misstep exposes Jack’s sexuality and incites the wrath of his father. Through it all, Jack remains protective of his flamboyant little brother, Billy, who he fears is also gay and may be left in the hands of his maniacal father upon Jack’s graduation. York paints the town of Sweet as a bastion of God-fearing homophobes ruled by a church and its dictatorial leader; only Jack’s mother seems to have a more lenient take on the subject, and the true nature of her relationship with her husband is only revealed at the story’s greatly unresolved conclusion. Certain sections are difficult to read and somewhat implausible: Minister Nate’s sheer, overblown hatred for Jack is matched only by Andrew’s bizarre acceptance of his family’s starvation torture. While the author effectively touches on child abuse issues alongside the struggles of young gay men coming to terms with their sexuality in the face of religious adversity, this first novel in York’s (In Or Out?, 2013, etc.) A Southern Thing series is blunted by an overly abrupt, violent conclusion and explicit sex scenes, which may limit the novel’s overall appeal and reading audience. Still, for those interested in the often forcibly suppressed vitality of young gay teens, York, a prolific Southern writer, delivers a hardscrabble yarn of forbidden love against all odds.
Jack and Andrew make a compelling duo powering this engrossing if despairing small-town series about oppression, freedom and equality.