Cornmaven's Reviews > What They Always Tell Us

What They Always Tell Us by Martin  Wilson
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's review
Apr 02, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: hs-adult
Read in April, 2009

This is a story about a kid struggling to discover his sexual orientation along with his place in his universe. The book opens with the aftermath of an attempted suicide, and things unfold from there. The suicide is not a result of his realizing that he is gay - that happens through the story.

The chapters alternate between his and his brother's worldviews - his brother being a senior and also trying to make sense of the weirdness of high school and a general malaise about the future. It's told in 3rd person, present tense, which is unusual for YA books these days. I think the author decided on that route to give us a distance from the events and angst.

Wilson juxtaposes heterosexual encounters with homosexual encounters in some unique ways. The former is expected and but clearly are destructive emotionally, as these HS kids move from partner to partner in search of the love they do not get from sex. They are all adrift. Alex and Nathen, on the other hand, enter into a genuine loving relationship, albeit secret by necessity, and Alex figures out that it's not going to last because Nathen is going off to college. What he succeeds in doing, however, is mature enough to be honest with himself and his brother and his therapist - but not his parents yet. The sexual encounters are tastefully done, and not that graphic or detailed, which is appreciated - they didn't need to be to get the point across.

There's also a little, weird boy across the street who teaches everyone about tolerance and love. In fact, the whole tone of the book is tolerance and love, and I liked that. The theme of the danger of keeping secrets is pretty strong, too.

There's not a lot of melodrama in the book, which is a change of pace, but the themes will stick with the reader.

I knocked it down a star, however, because of a couple of things. Some details were 'off' regarding HS kids. These kids mostly come from wealthy families, yet they are not communicating by cell phone, which seemed very odd. Also, Wilson uses the term "buddy" as a term of endearment - the dad calls his boys that, Nathen calls Alex that, Alex and James call the boy across the street that, but a couple of times Wilson slips up and has someone use it to another guy that would never happen. He needed to use 'dude' 'man' and a guy's last name more often to make it real. I did like that almost all the kids had two parent, semi-normal families, which is kind of different in YA books these days. No mothers headed for a mental breakdown, how refreshing. Another slight flaw is the low level of homophobia amongst the students - there's some, but I hear about a stronger level at HS currently, and Wilson doesn't really go into much about that. He also doesn't juxtapose gay kids who aren't open about it, with those who are, which is another fact of HS life. I would have been interested to see how he would have done that.

All in all, a good read.


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