Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Under a Sky of Ash by Brandon Witt

More than a decade after leaving Colorado to attend college and escape his past, Isaiah Greene moves back and builds a life in Denver as a special education teacher. When he meets Ben Woods, the mentor of one of his students, the attraction is immediate. The revelations that they’ve both suffered traumatic childhoods form a bond between them.

Raised by an abusive grandmother, Ben is a recovering addict who has made a family with his construction worker boss, Hershel, and Hershel’s husband, Daniel—drag queen ManDonna. Adding Isaiah to his life gives Ben a glimpse of a future he’d never dreamed possible for himself.

Both Isaiah and Ben are survivors, but when guilt drives a wedge between them, the past threatens to end their relationship.

Ben and Isaiah embark on journeys of self-discovery. Though their path will be difficult at times, humor and love find a way to bring light to the darkness.

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Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

4.5 stars

This is the most ordinary of the books I’ve read by Brandon Witt, and it may be his best writing yet. The story of a construction worker and a teacher, these characters are grounded and their experiences are painfully realistic.

Both survivors of traumatic childhood experiences, Isaiah and Ben meet at a care team meeting for one of Isaiah’s pupils. I loved their awkward attempts at dating. I loved the mixed messages and confusing signals. This book has some incredibly uncomfortable dating scenes and I loved the realism.

There is an uneasy tension between the relatively normal awkward start to a new relationship and the fear both Ben and Isaiah feel when they have to reveal and explain their early traumas. Parts of this story are incredibly dark and very difficult to read.

Every time this story gets too dark, the author throws in a drag-queen or a go-go dancer in a turkey costume to lighten the tone. Ben’s drag “mamma” and the rest of his wonderfully eclectic family of choice are fabulous. Even though Brandon Witt always writes m/m, this is the first book I’ve read where his characters are firmly embedded in the queer community and I really loved the colour and drama the drag queens and go-go dancers add to this story.

As a teacher and a foster carer, there were moments when this book was just a little too accurate. Isaiah and Ben’s work with Aaron is way too familiar. Only someone with experience could so perfectly capture the equal parts love and exhaustion involved in caring for or attempting to teach a looked after child with emotional difficulties.

The slightly cumbersome plot is the only reason I haven’t awarded this book five stars. At times, there is too much going on for one book. Every character and every event demands an emotional response and I was completely exhausted by the end. I loved all of the characters and I thoroughly enjoyed the romance, but I could have managed with fewer revelations and less complicated back stories.

BRANDON WITT’s outlook on life is greatly impacted by his first eighteen years of growing up gay in a small town in the Ozarks, as well as fifteen years as a counselor and special education teacher for students with severe emotional disabilities. Add to that his obsession with corgis and mermaids, then factor in an unhealthy love affair with cheeseburgers, and you realize that with all those issues, he’s got plenty to write about…

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Under a Sky of Ash by Brandon Witt to read and review.

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