Monday, August 12, 2019

ARC Review: The Importance Of Being Kevin by Steven Harper


Kevin Devereaux’s life can't get worse. He’s on probation. He’s stuck with an unemployed ex-convict dad. And he lives in a run-down trailer on the crappy east side of town. To keep his probation officer happy, Kevin joins a theater program for teenagers and falls hard for Peter Finn, the lead actor in the show—and the son of the town's leading family. Despite their differences, Peter returns Kevin’s feelings, and for the first time, Kevin learns what it means to be in love.

But Peter’s family won’t accept a gay son—let alone a boyfriend from the wrong side of the tracks—and in their conservative town, they must keep the romance secret. Still, they have the play, and they have each other, so they’ll get by—

Until a brutal attack shatters Kevin’s life and puts Peter in danger of going to jail for murder.

Sandra's review:

This was my first book by this author, but it won't be my last. The blurb didn't really hint at this being a Young Adult novel, but it did hint at there being angst and drama - on which it certainly delivered.

TW for sexual assault, which happens in slightly graphic detail around 15% in. The assault itself doesn't take long, but there are additional interaction with the assailant afterwards that might also be triggering to some readers.

Kevin Deveraux is 16, still in high school and currently on probation for a stupid, STUPID thing he did that left another person hospitalized. His dad is an ex-convict, who's been clean ever since he got out of prison, his mother having left as soon as his father got out, and the two of them live in a run-down trailer on the wrong side of the tracks in a small conservative town. Kevin's father keeps them afloat with small cash jobs whenever he can get work, and they live for free in the trailer which is owned by an old acquaintance.

To keep his probation, Kevin is supposed to find a job over the summer, but those are hard to come by in their small town, especially for someone like him. So he decides to try out for the community theater production of The Importance Of Being Earnest, and finds his calling as he is cast as one of the main characters in the play.

Opposite him, the other "Earnest" is Peter Finn, a young man a few years older (19), who is, we find out later in the book, from the most prominent, richest family in town. Of course, Peter's family is not impressed with his choice in boyfriend, nor do they support his being gay, and they have a large hand in some of the drama that happens later in the book.

Initially, we are treated to a sweet romance between a boy from the wrong side of the tracks and the city's Golden Boy, with believable, realistic characters and organic dialogue. As we get to delve deeper into Kevin's character, we see that he's really a good boy who's been dealt a shitty hand in life, and who doesn't think much of himself. As such, he seems to feel that the assault he suffers is deserved, and it takes a bit of time for him to realize that, no, he didn't deserve it. Peter encourages Kevin, telling him he's smart and a good actor, and the two young men start to explore their relationship.

Some time after the assault, Kevin tells Peter, stammeringly and hesitantly, what happened to him, and Peter leaves to confront the assailant. The next morning, Kevin's rapist is dead. But whodunit? The obvious suspect is Peter who is immediately arrested and then bailed out with Daddy's money. Kevin only feels relief, not regret, but also worries about Peter and how this will all play out.

This book is at once a young love romance, a murder mystery, and a tale of dealing with a horrid, self-important and snobby family (Peter's mother is a special case of abominable), all while positioning the bad parts against the fun of the theater production and a young man realizing that his father is solidly in his corner. And though there are many plot points, the author manages to tell a coherent story that kept me riveted to its pages, through the ups and downs, through Kevin's self-doubt and eventual triumph in the play, through figuring out who killed his rapist, through attempts at blackmail, and the edge-of-your-seat climax that brings all the things out in the open (the truth came completely out of left field for me) and sets up an ending that is, while not happily ever after, leaving both Kevin and Peter in a good place.

While this isn't the author's first book, it was my first exposure to him, and I'm now going to check out his back catalog for more of such fine work as I was given here.

Definitely recommended!

** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher in exchange for an honest review. **

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