Thursday, December 8, 2016

Book Review - Don't Let Me Go by J.H. Trumble

Some people spend their whole lives looking for the right partner. Nate Schaper found his in high school. In the eight months since their cautious flirting became a real, honest, tell-the-parents relationship, Nate and Adam have been inseparable. Even when local kids take their homophobia to brutal levels, Nate is undaunted. He and Adam are rock solid. Two parts of a whole. Yin and yang.

But when Adam graduates and takes an Off-Broadway job in New York—at Nate’s insistence—that certainty begins to flicker. Nate starts a blog to vent his frustrations and becomes the center of a school controversy, drawing ire and support in equal amounts. But it is the attention of a new boy who is looking for more than guidance that forces him to confront who and what he really wants.

J.H. Trumble’s debut, DON’T LET ME GO, is a witty, beautifully written novel that is both a sweet story of love and long-distance relationships, and a timely discourse about bullying, bigotry, and hate in high schools.

Don't Let Me Go is a very angsty addition to the LGBTQ-themed YA novels.  It focuses on Nate Schaper and his relationship with boyfriend Adam, who is in New York for most of the novel.  Though their relationship is in full swing from the very first page, we get to see how it unfolded through flashbacks that, while jarring, did a fairly decent job of showing the chemistry and love between the boys.

It's very hard for me to write this review because I  have so many different opinions about this book.  On the one hand, I was kept entertained throughout most of its length, and I did get invested in Nate's and Adam's life together - and apart.  But on the other hand, there were so many things about this novel that frustrated me that I would have trouble actually recommending it to anyone.

The first thing you notice is the time jumps.  While it starts off in the present, it quickly shifts to the beginning of Nate and Adam's relationship with almost no warning.  As I said, these gllmpses into their past really do paint a picture of an epic love story, but the transition from present to past never stops feeling abrupt and jolting.  I would routinely spend the first few paragaraphs mentally switching gears, which took me out of the story quite a bit.  There were aslo a few times when I didn't even know which time period I was reading about.  Had J.H. Trumble managed to incorporate the time jumps more seamlessly, I don't doubt that my reading experience would have been much more positive.

The characters themselves also became a bit of an annoyance to me.  Nate and Adam are pretty fleshed-out characters, as is Nate's heterosexual friend, Danial, but the other side characters are impossible to truly care about.  Juliet, their perky best friend and the first person they came out to, seems awesome at first.  The way she accepts the two boys' relationship despite having cluelessly been making out with Nate pretty regularly before he came out is nothing short of awesome.  But that's really the only moment in the entire novel that she owns.  For the rest of it, she's just this cliche version of a perky high school girl.  One who can't seem to shake the idea that Nate could be, deep down, attracted to her.

Luke, the other main side character, isn't introduced until well past the halfway mark, so I can't get too detailed with my gripes with him.  But basically, if Jules is the novel's cliche perky girl, Luke is its cliche closet case with a crush.  Though he's made out to be this really sweet, sensitive kid who's at a vulnerable time in his life, he never comes across as more than a two-dimensional plot device.  The only purpose he really serves is to showcase how truly self-absorbed Nate can be at the expense of Luke's feelings.  So though I was supposed to really care about his character, I never quite managed to do so.

Don't Let Me Go is about a lot more than just a love story, though.  It's about homophobia, and its effects on gay people.  This is, admittedly, an area in which I don't have a ton of expertise, so take my opinions on how it's handled in this novel with a grain of salt, but there were times when it felt a bit overdone.  Some character's reactions were just a bit too black and white, too obviously evil.  Though never given graphic details, you learn early on that Nate is the survivor of a very serious assault, and though I know things like that happen all too often, the boy responsible reads like a cliche of what an intolerant bully is.  It seemed to me like the author was taking a bunch of stories of things that actually did happen to gay teenagers and throwing them into her book.  Some things seemed tragically believable, while others felt inauthentic or over the top.  Still, despite that, it was never handled insensitively, for which I give J.H. Trumble the credit due to her.

My other issue with Don't Let Me Go is its ending.  The first two thirds of the novel were far more entertaining than the last third, but even that could have been forgiven if not for the very last chapter.  It takes place ten years after the events of the novel, and ties everything together with a nice little ribbon.  It was basically wish fulfillment, and it took away from what should have been a very powerful ending.  It felt, plain and simple, like a cop-out.

Amid what works and what doesn't work, the writing remains consistently good.  It has that kind of accessible, engaging prose that makes reading chapter after chapter very easy.  There are a few emotional scenes that are handled wonderfully, and a few steamy scenes that managed to convey a lot with few words.  Given that Don't Let Me Go is Trumble's debut novel, I would absolutely be willing to read more books written by her.  This one may ultimately go down as a semi-entertaining but very forgettable read, but there was more than enough potential in its pages to suggest that later novels could be a lot better.

If you saw this book before my review and were already planning on reading it, I wouldn't warn you away.  But if you're just looking for books to add to your TBR shelf, maybe skip this one in favor of something else.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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