CBR15bingo: Strange Worlds square – Evangelical Christianity in America and pray the gay away
Jack is what his father calls “a man’s man.” Jack is the son of an evangelical Christian preacher and the oldest of ten children. He is terrified of his father and doubly terrified of what his father would do if he ever finds out that Jack likes guys. Jack’s youngest sibling, Billy, loves dressing up in girls’ clothes, wearing his mother’s pink lipstick, and playing ballerina. Jack watches over him, constantly making sure that he can remove Billy’s outfit and makeup before their father can find him and beat him. At eighteen, Jack is focusing on getting a football scholarship to a state university and keeping up appearances long enough to survive his last year at home.
When Andrew moves to his small Georgia town, Andrew’s parents introduce him to Jack’s father in the hopes that he will help “cleanse” their son of his deviant ways. Jack takes Andrew under his protection and keeps the bullies at school from beating Andrew up. Within days, Jack confesses his love for Andrew and the two begin a secret relationship.
Before I dive into the many ways in which I did not enjoy this book, let me go through the few points that I found interesting and worth more consideration.
Andrew’s parents move away from Atlanta to a smaller town so they can keep a close watch over him and only allow him to have friends from Jack’s father’s church. It becomes clear that his parents are of the mindset that Andrew needs to repent for his sins (making out with other boys) and that they can “pray the gay away.” Andrew is weak, in body and in spirit, meaning that his parents keep such a close watch on him that he is constantly afraid of being punished with homeschooling and no social contact outside of a weekly church service.
While much of this story is farfetched, I have no doubt that this situation has happened and continues to happen within deeply religious communities. Even though Andrew is eighteen, he has no money, he doesn’t have any contact with any of his former friends in Atlanta and, as a new kid in a small town, he has no one to protect him or to fight for him. He wants to leave home but he is too old for the foster care system. He has nowhere to go and no one to rely on. Plus, after years of brainwashing, he truly believes that somehow he brought this upon himself.
Spoilers and content warning for child abuse
Jack and Andrew fall into a physical and emotional relationship within days of meeting one another. For some reason, Andrew’s parents allow Jack to take him to and from school. We know that this is the beginning of their senior year of high school and that a lot can happen between now and graduation. So for them to be so deep into it so quickly seems ridiculous. But then again, that’s kind of what first love is, isn’t it? Still, three days is a little crazy. Romance tropes live on!
We learn early on that Andrew is skinny because his parents are starving him. They restrict his food and tell him that fasting and prayer will help cure him of his evil ways. Until Jack starts giving Andrew food multiple times a day, Andrew is barely there mentally. Even when a case worker gets involved because it is obvious that the poor boy is starving all the time, he stays with his parents…who have locks on the fridge and the pantry.
Things go from bad to worse when Jack’s dad finds out that Jack is gay. He beats Jack and threatens to kill his little brother if Jack doesn’t do everything he instructs.
The story was horrifying. The dialog and plot were terrible. And the agony of these poor people is too much to bear. There are two other books which promise more of the same. I really hope that Jack and Andrew are able to graduate and go to college together, but I’m not going to read the second book, which promises even more torture and more angst than the first.
I give it one star for telling this story and bringing these characters’ plights to life. But I do not want to read more.
I got this book as part of June’s Stuff Your Kindle Day on romancebookworms.