Review: Justin Durand – There Was a Boy

Author: Justin Durand
Reviewer: Diane
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Contemporary

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Summary:

Tall, slim, shy Aaron Larkin has four objectives as he begins his eighteenth year: run a 5K in less than 15:21, graduate from high school, begin dating and come out of the closet. Two days after his birthday, a momentous first date with the man of his dreams convinces Aaron he’s in love and ready for marriage. However, Aaron must first address the damage he suffered from a difficult childhood.

“You aren’t super macho. More like…sweet and hot.”

That‘s how Aaron’s friend and neighbor Michelle, the smartest girl in the class, describes him. She promises he’ll meet someone soon.

Aaron is skilled at ignoring an unhappy childhood that left him serene on the outside and insecure, vulnerable and anxious on the inside. From middle school on, he concentrated on getting good grades and running faster but also gained more than enough experience with hopeless crushes on really nice straight classmates. Now, at the start of his last semester of high school, he’s ready for a real romance. With help from Michelle and a pooch named Daisy, he meets three seriously good-looking guys who invite him to join their running club. Daniel, Justin and Matthew are a few years older than Aaron but they quickly accept him into their social group. Life has programmed Aaron to be pessimistic but he gets his hopes up and for the first time he makes a connection with another gay guy.

Aaron knows “the course of true love never did run smooth,” but he lets himself forget and believe that it will for him. Naturally, when it doesn’t he blames himself.

There Was a Boy recounts a pivotal time when a teenager enters adulthood sooner than he’s ready, meets the man of his dreams and falls in love. Aaron has a lot to learn about sex and love. He’s positive he’s found the right teacher but an additional lesson awaits him and he must confront the wounds of his childhood before he can graduate to his new life.

Review:

The point of view of this book is that of the observer, so pretty much all main and supporting characters are part of the third person narration. I learned a couple of things with this point of view – while it is not necessarily my favorite writing style, it did give this story an interesting perspective that seemed like the right one by the midway point of the book. I also learned it can be easy to judge characters (the grandparents) when their story is told from the outside, so I had to try and get past myself on that!

Aaron is 17 as the story begins, he has been living with his mother and paternal grandparents since he was 4 when his father abandoned them. Aaron was put into several sports so he could toughen up, or so his grandfather thought, but it turns out what sport he does well is running. That seems very symbolic since many people who enjoy running say it feels freeing or that it clears their head. Aaron’s grandparents have taken over the parenting role with him and he has more of a sibling-like relationship with his mother, Dawn. To the credit of the grandparents, they did not kick Dawn to the curb, they took both of them in and have kept them there. However, it is a bit of an unconventional upbringing, as well as a lonely one for Aaron.

The story is a journey, and the multiple character narration shows just how many people can be involved in or try to influence the choices a person makes. The varied perspectives did challenge me at first, but this is definitely Aaron’s story and he is a character you want to see have a happy ending from the first chapter. While you don’t get inside his head, his actions and words indicate Aaron is an uncertain, and sometimes insecure young man, which makes sense when you are keeping a vital part of you a secret! At the same time, he is such a great character who has an immense inner strength to keep going forward, even if sometimes he is cynical about how things may play out for him.

While it is a coming out book for a young gay man, chances are, there are experiences or perspectives of Aaron that any reader can identify with. As a few reviewers have noted, you could almost read this as a nonfiction book! The book is about Aaron’s coming out, about the support needed when a young person comes out and in the good instances, how that support can expand with the right group of people.

If you like young adult stories, coming of age and coming out, I expect you will enjoy this story. With the age of the characters, sexual exploration is definitely part of the plot, but it works for the story, it does not feel excessive. This is new to me author, but I would definitely look at other books by him.

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