Monday, January 25, 2016

ARC Review: Until September by Chris Scully

Until September

As a teenager, Archie Noblesse clawed his way out of the poverty, heartache, and abuse of the reservation and left his family behind. Desperate to shake the shadow of his past, he reinvents himself as Archer Noble, an outspoken blogger and controversial author who lives only for himself. But when his beloved sister dies, Archer is saddled with guardianship of his niece and nephew.

Elementary school teacher Ryan Eriksson is devastated when his best friend Marguerite is killed, leaving her two young children orphaned. Helping Archer with his new responsibilities eases his grief, but when Archer offers him custody of the children, Ryan’s left with an impossible choice: get the family he’s always wanted, or respect Margie’s wishes and convince Archer to give parenting—and his heritage—a chance.

To buy time, Ryan promises to stay for the summer, hoping that Archer will change his mind and fall for the kids. But Archer’s reluctant, and the growing attraction between him and Ryan complicates matters. Legal decisions must be made, and soon, before Ryan returns to school. But with hearts involved, more than just the children’s future is on the line.

My rating:

First off, cover love. I adore this cover. It perfectly fits with the story, and it's beautiful. I don't normally comment on covers, but this one deserved a mention.

Secondly, this book was really, really good. Beautifully written, high on the emotions, with much heartbreak but also joy.

I loved how the author included aboriginal culture and issues by making Archie Noblesse/Archer Noble a Cree, and didn't shy away from showing some of the ugly sides of what Native Americans and Canadians are still forced to endure. Alcoholism and drug abuse runs in Archie's family, and extends into child rape and forced sodomy at the hands of his uncle after Archie and Marguerite are placed with their grandmother when their mother disappears. Thankfully, the author refrained from any graphic descriptions, but it's very clear what happened to young Archie.

Archer Noble reinvents himself after leaving the reservation upon his uncle's death. He's well-known and successful as a blogger and author who is out and proud gay, and speaks out against the hetero-normative expectations, including gay marriage and monogamy. He doesn't care whom he offends with his opinions - clicks bring cash, and he's riding the wave of his popularity as a gay man who defies the turning tide of public opinion. He fucks and dumps, never making a lasting connection - heck, he doesn't even have a permanent address. He cares for nothing and no one, except Marguerite, his beloved sister, even though he doesn't see her much. Christmas and birthday presents, and an occasional phone call, are all the connection he has left to his past.

Then Archer's sister dies in a tragic accident and leaves behind two young children, after having lost her husband and the kids' father a few years prior.

Since Archer isn't close by, the kids go home with their teacher, Ryan Eriksson, who's also best friends with Marguerite, after some legal stuff is out of the way. When Archer arrives, he's set on not changing his life(style), but torn between what's right and what he wants.

Ryan makes him a deal - he'll stay, if Archer sticks it out until September, when school starts again, and if Archer still doesn't want them by then, he can send them to foster care. Or give them to Ryan, maybe. See Ryan, despite his outward appearance, has a bit of a backbone, and while he takes much of what Archer dishes out, he's not a complete doormat.

Slowly but surely, Archer changes, even though he fights it at every step.

I loved how the author set the two men as complete opposites, not only in looks but more so in character. Ryan dreams of having a husband and a family - he wants exactly what Archer is so adamant in speaking against - and while his last relationship ended with a break-up, he hasn't given up hope that he'll find someone to be The One. He realizes, of course, that falling for Archer is probably the stupidest thing he could do, but can't help himself anyway.

And Archer sees that maybe he was wrong. Maybe the white picket fence, with a husband and kids, isn't all as bad as he thinks it is. Maybe having that one person that supports and loves you no matter what is worth more than all the Grindr hook-ups in the world.

I wish that we'd have gotten some closure on Archer and Marguerite's mother, but the author uses her character to highlight yet another very real issue - aboriginal women disappear and/or are found dead at a much higher rate than their white counterparts, and there isn't much the police or even the government seems to want to do to change that. The social disparity between the aboriginal people and the rest of the Canadian people seems just as wide as it is in many parts of the US, and with that come the issues used in this book - rampant alcoholism, drugs, and abuse, with nobody seeming to care about the children that grow up in those circumstances.

The author manages to highlight these issues without ever sounding preachy, which surely isn't easy to do.

I loved this book. It wasn't full of action, but quiet in a way, and gave voice to two very different but very much alike characters. And the kids were actually kids - not cutesy or sounding older than they were - and their struggles after losing not only their father, but also their mother, and having to deal with grief and uncertainty were all very realistically described. The author also made a point to show how resilient kids can be, especially at a younger age, and as a mother myself, I found that their actions and reactions seemed highly accurate.

Well done, Chris Scully, well done.

** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher via Netgalley. A positive review was not promised in return. **

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