Now this is quite a long post. So I have a short version for those who do not have the greatest amount of time and a longer one for those who have the time to discover the beauty of this novel. Enjoy!
This is not a read for the faint of heart. This incredibly important book chronicles the lives of three seemingly different boys who come to discover that they may have more in common than they thought, that they all may be gay. But accepting this poses a significant danger to all three boys in their quiet town in Western Australia. The choice that each boy makes whether by freewill or being forced will forever alter their lives and those around them.
This is not a read for the faint of heart. This incredibly important book chronicles the lives of three seemingly different boys who come to discover that they may have more in common than they thought, that they all may be gay. I say may due to the insightful distinction that Sheppard makes between the boys varying acceptance of who they are and what it means to be attracted to other guys.
So let's meet our three protagonists. Charlie is a punk rocker who hides his soft side behind a facade of bravado. Zeke is a classic over-achiever who is never able to satisfy his demanding parents. Hammer is the school jock with a massive ego and a massive dream of making it in professional AFL. Coming from all facets of the school social hierarchy, the boys only come to know each other on a deeper level after a spate of unfortunate revelations bring the topic of homosexuality to the table in the small town.
Charlie is forced out of the closet after it is revealed the older guy he was hooking up with, was in fact married. As a result of this, his life is thrown into chaos. He is labelled a home-wrecker by the town who already had assigned him to the fringes. He discovers the hypocrisy of his band-mates and former friends as they are willing to support gay rights but not to the extent of actually being friends with a gay person. Not to mention, his non-existent family support is worsened by his mother and her boyfriend constantly taking the piss out of him while not pretending to care about him at all.
In the aftermath of the revelation about Charlie, Zeke's life is dramatically altered as well. Being the second child for Zeke has always meant never fitting the shoes of his older brother. Nothing he does, despite all the academic awards he has achieved, will ever be enough to prove to his family that he too, is a good Sicilian boy. He is keenly aware that he is not macho enough or a good enough example of masculinity to earn his parents praise. His only respite is the occasional weekend to himself. However, in the wake of the outing of Charlie, Zeke's mother is told to check his sons internet browsing history for any incriminating evidence to prove that Charlie is 'infecting' others across the town. Her discovery of his use of gay porn sites emphatically shows that homosexuality will not be tolerated in the household and he is sent to their church to 'profess his sins'.
Hammer meanwhile is a very interesting character. Having been raised by a misogynistic, homophobic former-AFL star, he has been ingrained to demean those who are different to him. But for him that isn't a problem in the meantime, as all he is concerned about is attaining the perfect physique and improving his football skills so he can be drafted to play in the AFL. For Hammer, life is footy and there is absolutely no other option. Hammer is brought into the lives of Charlie and Zeke after a drunk outburst at a party which Zeke helps to sort out. But Hammer isn't concerned with his attraction to guys as he is certain that it is just a phase that he will grow out of. That is until he gets involved with Zeke and has major panic attacks anytime he comes close to the realisation that he may be gay.
These three complex characters lives become entwined in the progression of the narrative. Charlie meets a boy who might be the one thing that convinces him to keep going. Zeke finally comes to terms with who he is but can he protect himself from his traditional Italian family? Hammer is caught between complete denial that male attraction means anything and brief moments of terror when he thinks that he might be gay. The choices that the boys decide to make will dramatically alter their life and are equally terrifying for them all with so much at cost.
One of the many heartbreaking parts of this book is how it highlights the many reasons that gay people do not come out and accept their sexuality. From losing their family, to being told they cannot be around children, that they are 'infecting' others, to being the source of constant ridicule and seen as an 'other', the boys face the complexity of being who you are when others do not want you to be that person. The real question is though, can they survive living in a town that doesn't want them to exist?
As well as stocking this fantastic novel, we also have the pleasure of hosting a visit from the author himself, Holden Sheppard!
Join us for a conversation with Holden Sheppard and Cass Moriarity on this novel on Wednesday 13th of November 2019 at 6:30pm. You can purchase tickets here!