Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Book Review: 'Back Off! That’s My Jock' by Wade Kelly

Two college boys meet. One is dressed like a girl. A kiss happens. But one boy is bisexual and the other comes from an excruciatingly religious, abusive family. Angst, angst, angst abounds.
In case you want to know, Doug’s POV is in first person while Sam’s are in third person. That seems like the new norm for dual perspective these days. Just FYI. It’s easy to get accustomed to, so I had no trouble there.
The beginning is a bit on the dull side, with long pages of exposition. I wanted to see things happen, not be told about them after the fact. Namely how Doug and Sam(antha) met. We do get to see that scene eventually but it might have worked better in the beginning. Nonetheless, when we do see it, it’s short and to the point. I liked how easily the scene flowed.
This is a good book. I adored the other books in this series. Kelly is a great writer who has a knack for realistic characters and dialogue, humor and angst, awkwardness of teen years and growing up, friendship and family, not to mention love and sensuality. I especially love how the author portrays friends, for example Rob, who’s my favorite, a fun person I love to read about. Everyone needs a Rob in their lives. Though, on a side note, some might not appreciate the lengthy talks about religion here, specifically, Christianity. But since Rob is such a nice person, his views are positive and kind. In these turbulent, hate-filled times, that was a nice change.
Kelly’s grasp of characterization shines here as well. Both Doug and Sam come off as three-dimensional characters, flesh and blood boys trying to make sense of things changing in their lives. Doug’s temper and jealousy, for one, are a few of his defining characteristics. But he’s also a compassionate defender of those he cares for. Sam’s fears are also given center stage, the trauma of being brought up in fear because of a violent, ultra-religious father and a mother scared into silence. Sam is afraid to love Doug and Doug has ways to go before he knows who he himself is but the two boys inevitably gravitate toward each other.
The structure of the book is a bit off. For example, when Doug and Sam finally kiss again, the scene is immediately interrupted by several chapters of Sam’s version of everything that’s happened before, things that I already learned from Doug’s perspective. That really irked me, since it seemed useless. Sam’s feelings, his confusion, could have been depicted differently. It wasn’t necessary to hear his thoughts when the reader could infer those things from his reactions, expressions and words, from Doug’s chapters just fine.
The first half on the story is full of angst in the sense that Doug is confused about his sexuality and wants to be with Sam, while Sam is buried deep in the closet and afraid of being true to himself. Be forewarned that both guys date and kiss girls during the story, so if you consider that cheating, then steer clear.
The interpersonal angst and the inner self-reflections felt realistic and relatable. I especially appreciated the way Sam began to learn how to question the things his father had told him: that all gays are faggots, that it’s unnatural, etc. It wasn’t a quick epiphany but more of a series of slow realizations. Sam really grows into his own man during the story, finding his courage and sense of self. In contrast, Doug learns to curb his temper and think things through, take his time, and be patient. His puzzlement over whether he’s straight, gay, or bisexual was rather well done. His dad’s and Chris’s influence on Doug’s thought processes were quite revealing. I was glad bisexuality was given the credit it deserves. Labels and fitting into boxes don’t work for everyone.
In the second half of the book the plot kind of falls apart a bit. First, there are a lot of sports situations. And I mean a lot. Then there is a violent parent who goes off the deep end, leaning toward the melodramatic. It was obvious from the start this would happen but did it need to? It felt like once the boys decide to be together, the tension of would-they-wouldn’t-they was resolved, and a new one had to be created. After the intense interpersonal conflicts of the first half, the second half didn’t really do it for me. The sex was hotter than the sun, though, so that was a plus.
The overall message of hope, love, friendship, family, and togetherness were strong throughout. Kelly’s writing style is strong, with a mix of inner monologue, dialogue, and sensual or physical scenes. Noteworthy is the fact that the boys belong to a soccer team, so most of the story revolves around the team, friendships, games, competitions, etc. Sort of a sports-themed romance. But more than that, I think this was about sexual identity and self-identity, and those subjects were handled exceedingly well.
Though this is a standalone book, to get the most out of these characters and the issues and conflicts covered, I suggest you read the whole series. This is the third in the Jock series, and they’re all worth a read. Recommended to those who like college boys figuring things out, who appreciate romances heavy on the angst factor and naughty sex, and who wish to understand through one example of what it’s like to be bisexual. I liked this a lot, and I’m looking forward to more.

Editor's note: This article was originally published at Long and Short ReviewsIt has been republished with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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