Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Bravest Thing by Laura Lascarso

High school junior Berlin Webber is about to reap the fruits of his hard work and land a football scholarship—if he can keep his sexuality a secret from his best friend, Trent, and their homophobic coach. Then Hiroku Hayashi swerves into the high school parking lot on his tricked-out motorcycle like some sexy comic book villain, and Berlin knows he doesn’t stand a chance.

Hiroku is fleeing his sophisticated urban scene to recover from drug addiction and an abusive relationship when he arrives in Berlin’s small Texas ranch town. Initially sarcastic and aloof, Hiroku finds in Berlin a steady, supportive friend who soon becomes more. As Hiroku and Berlin’s romance blossoms, they take greater risks to be together. But when a horrific act of violence tears them apart, they both must look bigotry in the face. While Berlin has always turned to his faith for strength, Hiroku dives into increasingly dangerous ways of coping, pushing them in opposite directions just when they need each other most.

Two very different young men search for the bravery to be true to themselves, the courage to heal, and the strength to go on when things seem darkest. But is it enough to bring them back together?

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Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

This is a gritty and emotionally powerful young adult story. At the start, the tension between cowboy football hero Berlin and eyeliner wearing new kid Hiroku suggests a fairly traditional small-town romance. As Berlin and Hiroku’s relationship develops, the story becomes much darker. The story slides from teenage angst to grim and graphic adult themes when the boys experience violence, domestic abuse, and addiction.

Berlin grows up quickly in this book. Small town Texas makes the student athlete a local hero before his sexuality makes him an outcast. Berlin experiences both ends of teenage popularity. By the end of the book, his experiences have made him an adult and given him strength.

Hiroku rides into Berlin’s small town on his motorcycle. His clothes, makeup, skin colour, and unshakeable confidence make him a target from the moment he arrives in town. If Berlin grows up during this book, Hiroku grew up before we meet him. Damaged and still vulnerable, Hiroku is trying desperately for a fresh start in a new place.

I enjoyed these two together. Hiroku is as damaged as Berlin is innocent. When tested, Hiroku’s strength is only superficial while Berlin proves himself able to care for them both.

This is a very adult story. Even though it is about school age teenagers, it is published by Dreamspinner as a New Adult – not a Young Adult – book. As a disclaimer for young readers, the author never attempts to protect readers from the reality of Hiroku and Berlin’s experiences. Drug addiction, domestic abuse, and horrific violence are explored in very graphic detail. Similarly, the sex is more explicit than readers expect from young adult writing. I felt uncomfortable reading some of the more explicit passages about high school juniors. I think this story would sit easier with me if both boys were 18.

This story is so gritty that I’m reluctant to say I enjoyed it. I appreciated it. I’m glad I read it. There are some beautifully written passages in this book. The connection between Berlin and Hiroku is special and there are some very moving moments between the two. This is a difficult and haunting book.

LAURA LASCARSO lives in North Florida with her darling husband, two children, and a menagerie of animals. Her debut novel, Counting Backwards (Simon & Schuster 2012) won the Florida Book Award gold medal for young adult literature. She aims to inspire more questions than answers in her fiction and believes in the power of stories to heal and transform a society.

Andre in Flight is Laura’s first full-length work with Dreamspinner Press but hopefully not her last.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of The Bravest Thing by Laura Lascarso to read and review.

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