Hazy, unsettling, and, in some ways, intense.
Despite this book being kind of strange (or perhaps because it was kind of strange), I liked it, though I’m finding it hard to describe. Not precisely slice of life, but it doesn’t have a lot of plot either. Maybe coming of age. Perhaps literary fiction, though I don’t really know what that is. There was a fantasy element, just a touch of the supernatural/paranormal, since the main character has the ability to bring dead things back to life, though that’s not really the focus. Nothing about the book is spectacular or flashy or big. It’s a story that’s just… there. It just is. It’s an exploration of the mind of a gay, atheist, German teen with a strange power who’s always been kind of an outsider being displaced to a super religious small town in Alabama, figuring himself out, trying to find a way to fit in, trying to figure out what he wants, and navigating relationships.
The southern small town setting really throws a light on the absurdity of many things that are considered acceptable in the US and, even more so, the harm that religion can do when it’s used to control others or excuse hate or exclude people, especially at the sake of education and science and empathy. The book overall also showed how and why people can become influenced in this sort of way, whether it’s because of how they’re raised, because of who they’re surrounded by, or because it makes them feel like they have a place to fit in.
But as I said, this is also just a story about Max. A teen with unique problems, like his supernatural power, but also less unique but still important problems, like being gay in a dangerously bigoted town. A teen trying to figure life out, falling in with the football players at his super religious school who were not good people, hating but not being able to resist using his supernatural ability to raise the dead, struggling to understand and accept his sexuality, still dealing with the grief of losing someone he once cared very much about, being smitten with the boy who unashamedly wore makeup and women’s clothing and was a self-proclaimed witch.
The story was weird, unsettling, and at times, disturbing. The whole thing had a hazy feel, but purposefully so. There was a strange sort of intensity to the book. Not in terms of action or the emotion it made me feel, more in the way Max felt things and the relationships and experiences he had.
Although there is a sort of romance element, this is not a romance book nor, in my opinion, a beautiful tale of young love or relationships, so you shouldn’t go into the book expecting that because you may not get it.
The plot was kinda meandering. It was focused on character development. I suppose my one story complaint is that the ending was very open and kind of sudden.
There was some pretty writing. As I mentioned, it’s written in a way that made everything feel kind of hazy, as though the reader is getting swept up in everything with Max. That might be a large part of why I enjoyed this, it felt kind of different. However, I know the ebook/print version has no quotation marks for dialogue, so do be aware of that. I listened to the audiobook and just let the narrator sort it out for me.
Speaking of which, I really liked the audiobook narration by Charlie Thurston. He sounded natural, and it was easy to tell important characters apart. Max had a German accent, the others had Southern accents, both of which sounded fine to me, though I’m not an expert on either. Female voices sounded good. I especially recommend it if you don’t want to deal with the lack of quotation marks.
Overall, this was a strange and unsettling book, but I enjoyed the strangeness, the exploration of some disturbing topics, and this look at a somehow simultaneously subdued and intense coming-of-age period in a confused character’s life.
Trigger/content warnings: *POSSIBLE SPOILERS* Homophobia. Mention of abuse. Rape (on-page, but he had an out of body experience and saw it happening to his unconscious body rather than really experienced it in first person). *END SPOILERS*
*Note: Just because there seems to be some confusion for readers, I wanted to note that I would not classify this as YA, despite the protag being 16.*
Anyone who likes books that are a bit strange and disturbing, coming of age stories that aren't necessarily positive, queer teen struggles and confusion, a touch of the supernatural, and pretty, somewhat unique writing.