While speaking with James Stryker after I had finished his debut novel Assimilation, he told me about his latest (then upcoming) novel, Boy: A Journey. After reading the description on his website, I was very much interested in it as well.
A snippet of it is: Everyone knew about Jay’s hidden transgender past — except his son. Now that his father is gone, Luke must seek the truth to understand the man he thought he knew. (click here to read the rest)
James Stryker was gracious enough to honor me with a copy of Boy: A Journey in exchange for an honest review. So, I eagerly dove head first into the novel, soon realizing that I would need to break from it over the holidays due to the sensitive and heart rending nature of the story and the events in it.
The first chapter includes the brutal and graphic death of Jay, Luke’s father, in the midst of yet another fight between father and son. The room became quite…dusty…during the first chapter, of course being the cause of my watering eyes…
When I was able to collect myself (and *ahem* find a less dusty room) I returned to the story to learn what happened in the aftermath of Jay’s death.
Boy: A Journey is told in three perspectives. We’re first introduced to Luke, the King of Brats, Luke the “Wronged”; the next chapter, we meet Tom, the man dying of cancer holding secrets to his chest like precious gems, in love with Jay and hiding in the wings; and finally, we have the perspective of Ginger (real name Jake), Luke’s brother-in-law and the man stealing Beau away from possessive Luke (he and Beau are twins, after all).
Unfortunately while reading, I ran into some similar issues that I had with Assimilation regarding pronouns and how time passes. For instance, it could be difficult at times to know for sure who is talking or being talked about. This was especially true when there were more than two people in the conversation; it got a little confusing on occasion.
There was also a lot of jumping back and forth in time without clearly seguing the reader through the time shifts; this made the car ride home with Luke and Jay in the first chapter a little confusing and difficult to get through, in particular.
Some chapters repeat blocks of time from different people’s perspectives, but it’s not always stated or made clear that that’s what’s happening. This left me with a discombobulated feeling. I think if chapter intros were used more consistently and effectively (which may or may not be the case with the final published version, I’m not sure), this problem would be mostly resolved.
Before I go too much further, there is one major detail (or set of details) that I wish were perhaps different: three important characters have the names Jay, Jake, and Jackie…even by the last page, this still messed with me. The names are so similar it took me way longer than it should have from the beginning to place who each character was every time I came across them. I became frustrated with momentary mix-ups more than a few times. It was easier when Jake was called by his nickname, Ginger, but then it would throw me off when I saw “Jake” used again.
Nevertheless, the story drew me in for the most part, despite Luke’s obnoxious and occasionally cruel asides. I did, however, spend a healthy portion of the book wondering why I was reading so much from Luke’s perspective; the giant chip on Luke’s shoulder leaves him with a skewed version of events in his life, all of which are compounded by the unexpected revelation of the secret Jay had kept most vigilantly from his son, and the fact that Luke is the last to know. It’s hard to understand how Luke came to be this much of an ass.
In the aftermath of Jay’s sudden and traumatic death, Luke’s focus is still mainly himself. He may be affected by the loss of his father, but the reasons are far more egocentrically based than truly mourning his dad; he cares more about trying to rattle and humiliate Ginger (his brother-in-law) at Jay’s funeral than he does giving his last respects and saying goodbye to his own father. Even his eventual tender moments towards his mother and sister are all about playing Luke’s most important role, that of “perfect” son and brother.
Everything comes to a head when Luke finds out that there’s a secret and everyone else was privy to it except him, and he believes, his twin, Beau. When Luke finds out that Tom, a virtual stranger to him, knows and has some connection to Jay and thus the secret, he arranges a meeting in hopes of manipulating answers from him. The meeting, however, is brief as Tom quickly realizes that Jay has not told Luke everything and that Luke is fishing. The disastrous encounter prompts Luke to confront his mother, Jackie, and demand the truth from her…the night of his father’s burial.
There are a couple of things I would I like to comment on concerning the conversation where Luke is told of his father’s transgender past and the ending, but I don’t want to give anything away to anyone who wants to experience it for themselves (I definitely recommend that!) So just in case you don’t know the drill, scroll down until you see the kitten under the flannel, it will be safe after that.
No matter what Luke’s justification is to himself, or anyone else, he is incredibly cruel with some of the things he says after the revelation of his father’s past, and Tom’s contribution to his and Beau’s existence.
The best part, though, are Beau and Jackie’s reactions; I loved the ferociousness with which Beau and Jackie defend Jay being a man and Luke’s real father. They rail against Luke and his ignorant and disgusting comments with passion…my heart swelled. Even though it was violent, I have to say I also enjoyed the detail of Ginger noticing Beau moving her wedding ring so that she smacked Luke with it facing him.
Another moment that tugged at my heart strings, and was incredibly sad to read, was Tom’s hallucination of Jay taking care of him, when it is really Luke. I almost cried.
As far as the end goes, one thing that I wish had been done differently was the apology and reconciling conversation between Luke and his family. I’m sure it would have been incredibly difficult to write, but as a reader, it seemed to resolve relatively easily. One long phone conversation after months of nothing, and things are on their way to being better. Not entirely fixed, but better, and mostly forgiven. Though it was obviously painful and difficult to get there for the characters, it still felt a little too easy of a makeup. I think it would have made the book a little stronger to further illustrate this pivotal conversation between Luke, Jackie, and Beau.
Yes, is safe now.
There is only one other matter I have an issue with and feel I must comment on, and that’s the way Tom talks about the pain medication he is given for his cancer. To read Tom’s experience, it’s incredibly easy to get pain medicine when you need it, which is not necessarily the case, regardless of a doctor’s willingness to prescribe.
For a man that likes to comment on being put upon and listing all the things he has to go through, Tom doesn’t once mention the debacle of having to go pick up his higher dose pain prescriptions himself from the doctor’s office and then taking them to the pharmacy to be filled; a doctor cannot call in a prescription for pain medicine that is classified as a narcotic, they have to have the physically written prescription in hand, and the ID of the person picking it up/who it’s for. I know this from personal experience. And believe me, it’s not fun.
Both to keep to Tom’s character, as well as to accurately and responsibly depict something concerning pain medicine, it’s something I would like to see done a bit better.
All around, even though I wanted to strangle Luke on more than one occasion, it was an unexpected journey to experience, and one I enjoyed reading overall.
My favorite aspect of the book is the “good deeds of truth,” doing something for the sake of someone else without any benefit for yourself. In general, it’s a beautiful sentiment that I wish more people understood, shared, and practiced. In the book, it’s one of Jay’s pillars, especially in concerning his care of the dead; Jay and Ginger are morticians, they care for the dead with love and respect without being repaid in anyway by the person they care for. There is no benefit but to respect another human being’s life.
I heartily recommend this to anyone looking for an LGBTQ+ related read, but only if you can handle some sad and difficult scenes. It’s hard for me to say who might enjoy this book, it has cancer, death, and transgender man holding onto a secret, but it also has a lot of heart and an ending that won’t make you want to throw it across the room, though you might tear up.
It’s safe to say that I’m a fan of Stryker’s writing style and his stories are intriguing. I will be eagerly awaiting and anticipating his future releases. You can get a copy of Boy: A Journey on Amazon or B&N , or visit James at his website.