CW: suicide and talk about an attempt, parental and other abuse, punishments, panic attacks. It takes place in a conversion therapy camp, so be prepared for a lot of homophobia.
I stumbled upon this book while browsing on twitter and I thought it was such an intriguing premise. I never expected my Wish for it would be granted on Netgalley but as soon as it was, I couldn’t think of reading anything else but this. And wow was I not wrong. I really don’t have words to describe what I’m feeling right now after finishing it.
The first thing I can say is that this book is unputdownable. Once I started reading, I just couldn’t even imagine putting it down till I reached the end and knew what had happened to all the characters. It’s that engaging and interesting. It also captures the teenage voice and their emotions very well. The book is very tightly plotted, with each little thing being revealed very slowly but still keeping the mystery alive, and I never guessed the complete truth. As most of the book takes place in a religious conversion camp, I was expecting it to be very horrifying – and the author manages to capture the horror of what’s happening and the terror the young kids feel, while also showing the beautiful solidarity that forms between the kids themselves. There are friendships, romantic relationships and platonic bonds that form and they are what give us joy in an otherwise bleak situation. This is truly a story about finding light in darkness, and strength in adversity.
And what a great ensemble of characters this book has. The story might be told only through Connor’s POV, but we meet so many amazing young queer kids who are put in unimaginable situations and the strength and resilience they show is highly admirable. Most of this story takes place in just about two days, but the author really lets us get to know each of them very intimately – their stories, their inherent natures and what they are ready to do to get out of the hellhole they are in. Connor, Marcos, Molly, Darcy, Lacrishia, Jack, Vance and all the other children – I loved every single one of them and was rooting for them throughout because they deserve all the love and protection.
The author also doesn’t shy away from showing the brutality of the people running the camp, but at the same time is able to create moments where we even sympathize with them. This is masterful writing and just emphasizes the point that the cycle of abuse is real and people who do monstrous things may have suffered in the past themselves, but that doesn’t make them any less predatory. And while it’s wonderful to see the queer kids fight back and stand up for themselves, the author also gives a reality check that out in the world, there will still be people who will trust the predators and zealots, and punishing a few of them doesn’t make the bigotry go away. The story is also very open about the long term harm that these kids suffer and how much positive support and psychological help they need to be able to get through it all. There is also the harsh reality that it’s not always easy or possible be out of the closet or to cut off homophobic family members and how living with them can be an ordeal in itself.
To conclude, this book is an intense mystery that gets hold of you on the first page and doesn’t let you go till the end. And despite the horrific setting of the story and the brutality that ensues, it’s characters are full of heart, humor and hope and we just keep wishing that they’ll make it out alright. There are a lot of uncomfortable truths are that are present in this story and that’s precisely why I think we should all read it.
PS: Thank you to Flux and Netgalley for providing me with the advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.