When his mother goes out to party one Saturday night and doesn't come back, seven-year-old Ishmael Hood is taken in by his estranged uncle Henry and Henry's live-in boyfriend, Sam. As this unlikely trio begins to build a new life together, they encounter both support and hostility in the small Mississippi town where they live. Seems like just about everybody has an opinion on the matter—and they're not shy about expressing it.
While this blossoming little family finds its feet, outside forces—and ghosts from the past—threaten to tear it apart. Henry, still trying to deal with the tragic death of his parents, finds himself hard-pressed to open his heart to this needy child.
Just as a little shine begins to come back into their lives, Ishmael's mother returns, and their world is thrown into chaos.
Nick Wilgus doesn't write romance. I knew that going in, so I didn't expect this book to be all romantic. If you're not familiar with Nick's books, read the first sentence again, and then read all of his books anyway!
What Nick writes are Southern stories pulled from real life. The characters he creates are real. They exist, somewhere, in similar fashion, in some small town in Mississippi. You've met them. You've heard them. You've seen them, in churches, in schools, in all the places.
So, romance, this is not. Oh sure, it features two men in love, in an established relationship, living together, facing all the homophobic crap the good Southern bible thumpers are wont to dish out, because, you know, the bible says so, without ever really thinking about how cruel they are to others.
You know, if you use the bible to hurt someone, you're doing religion wrong.
Anyway, in this book, which is somewhat similar to Nick's Sugar Tree series, we have Henry Hood, who, a few years after losing his parents in a tragic incident, is suddenly faced with having to take care of his 7 yo nephew Ishmael (Ishy for short), after the boy's mother disappears. Henry's BF Sam Rakestraw, who runs the local grocery store owned by his family, is all for taking care of Ishy, and after a few mishaps, they establish a routine.
Of course, this happening in a small Southern town, most of the good folks in town are not impressed and are sure to let Henry know they disapprove. Henry's sister is labeled white trash, Henry is kicked off the music group from church (a volunteer position, no less), he's labeled a pedophile (because, obviously, that's what gay men do - they prey on little boys [/sarcasm]), and there's some blackmail from the good sheriff who wants to know what really happened when Henry's parents died.
There are good people too. No small Southern town is all bigotry and hate, and there are those who stand with Henry, first and foremost his boyfriend, as well as his boyfriend's parents. There's one scene where Sam's brother Paul, a hateful man for sure, is thrown out of the family house for bringing his hate to the dinner table.
Henry's sister, the drug addict, is also a homophobe, who doesn't want Henry and Sam to take care of the boy. Not that she has much choice, seeing how she's in jail. And will be there for some time, what with the drug charges, and abandonment charges she's facing.
As always, Nick Wilgus includes some difficult themes in his book, but despite those difficulties, there is one shining light.
Love for a child, love between two men, love for your parents, your church, your town. Love for you from others, love that supports. Love that isn't always easy, love that faces hardships and bigotry, love that wins in the end.
Yes, there's heartbreak too. Nick Wilgus ripped my heart into pieces, made me cry bitter tears, and then he patched it back together. Much like he did to Henry - with the fissure lines still very much in place.
His stories are so amazingly real, with such realistic characterizations, and while I ranted against the unfairness of all the things in this book, I also rejoiced at the good people at the core of it.
We must, MUST, seek the goodness in people. We must seek to understand their motives and their reasons, if we want to forge relationships build on acceptance and trust. We must remember that at the end of the day we are all only human, imperfect in our words and deeds.
Nick Wilgus allows his characters to do that.
There were tears, as I said. Dark secrets come to light and open a chasm of confusion and pain. There is unfairness and bigotry, all because two men dare to love each other, and you just want to scream in anger at it all, at the close-mindedness of some people, at the hate they dish out for no reason at all.
But there is love, so much love, too. And love always wins.
This is not a romance. But it is most definitely a book you should read.
** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher. A positive review was not promised in return. **
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