The blurb of this book had me intrigued. It was a topic that I could definitely relate to as a black male growing up in a Christian world. I was more than ready to see how the author handled this. For the most part it was done well. Well enough for me to completely trash my own idea for this type of story so that’s more than a good point. The flow was okay even the pacing was alright. But unfortunately, some things were slightly off and I reached a point around 40 percent in, where I had to bow out of reading this book.
Firstly the way Isiah is trying to deny his sexuality and essentially pray the gay away was handled well. As the son of the paster and being watched by most of the congregation, it wasn’t hard to get on board with him firmly believing, although misguided as most religious assumptions are, that Jamal was a test. That resisting him and converting him to Christianity was the reason God had sent him. The struggle is real and felt and something easy to believe.
Jamal was also great. What I liked about him was how he wasn’t confused in any way. Men and women were attractive and he was fine with this. A complete nonissue. The very fact that he wanted to sleep with both Isiah and his twin Iysha was all sorts of win. I was rooting for both to happen. No lie. I was all in for the teenage quest for noncommittal orgasms. Live that life.
The flirtatious interactions between him and Isiah were mostly fun to read but there were still some issues.
First Jamal’s grandma, if I remember correctly, is described as being in her late forties. Yet Jamal himself is 18. If she had his mom at twenty, plus twenty more for him to have Jamal plus the 18 she is 58 at a bare minimum. Chances are high she might have had her daughter later than 20. Still, no matter how you slice it she should be at least ten years older than what she is described as to have a grandson as old as Jamal.
Then there was the oddity of how Jamal instantly hates Damian, Isiah’s best friend. He may be a bit high-strung but Jamal doesn’t know him yet. The readers don’t even know him yet. At first I thought it was all about him ruining his chances to flirt with Isiah. Something he did easily even with the sister also in the car. They carpool in Isiah’s car. However, he just doesn’t like him before even knowing his a devout Christian in the annoying sense or just how high energy he is. He mostly just asks him the same questions everyone asks him on that first day in school which made it odd that he didn’t at least wait for him to give him a reason to dislike him. As a reader, I didn’t even have a reason to dislike him yet. I don’t like him but at that point it was his first appearance, not nearly enough time to know what he is really like.
As to the flirting with the sister in the car. She is everything they say about ‘good’ Christian girls. Out there doing her thing with friends to corroborate her lies about where she is cause they are out there not where they are supposed to be also. She even has a bad boy boyfriend who her parents know nothing about. It’s hard to believe that when they share the same birthdate she doesn’t have even the slightest idea her twin is gay. And, on top of that, the story is in first person so if her responses and physical reactions say she’s aware but ignoring it, the author can’t show this detail because all things have to be seen through the main characters’ lenses and she isn’t one of them. The story definitely could’ve benefited from her point of view, as the outsider and the twin seeing how Isiah is being undone by Jamal and how conflicted he is about that. And, more importantly, to notice that detail she would also have to notice how Jamal talks to him when the three of them are together.
Also with her being out and about it’s even more likely she has come into contact with DL guys or heard rumours and as such would notice things that are off with her twin purely based on the fact she is not as into the church and is the very opposite of him. She has the life experience to pick up on cues. I was hoping at the very least the book might play out in that way where she was his only support but judging by why I quit the book I don’t see that happening. More on that later.
Also, there’s a bit about abuse, childhood trauma, that is mentioned leading right up to the point when the actual action happens then stopping there. It felt like a missed opportunity to show the gravity of the situation to readers and let us delve more into the psyche of Jamal and how he’s come to be who he is. And then when he reveals it later it comes off as an ‘it’s okay. You didn’t know’ vibe then back to business as usual. If a relationship, lasting or not, is starting this was a very good opportunity to bring them together and deeply challenge Isiah’s views on some things but it didn’t breathe for more than a few sentences then back to the business of getting Isiah out of his clothes. Two good chances to get us deeper into Jamal… missed, and one chance to increase the battle going on within Isiah’s mind… not taken.
Stepping back into some good stuff, Jamal’s decision after seeing how affected Isiah was by their first encounter was good. I liked how that played out between the two of them without all the forced angst and drama these stories tend to have. Even if, on both sides, it may not have been the best option but for them, it was indeed the right one at the space and time they were at. Unfortunately, this was used to bring about the reason I stopped reading.
So unable to get thoughts of Jamal and the increasing thoughts of men in general out of his mind Isiah is forced to embrace it and embark on what his forward journey will be. After weeks of no contact, he reveals this to Jamal. Jamal, afterwards, reveals this to his closest friend back home who says ‘so are you going to tell him’ and we find out at this point his been ‘talkn’ to Iysha the past few weeks. Not fucking with or just having sex with. ‘Talkn with or to’ as I remember it from back then was the equivalent of saying dating. So dating on the low with Iysha. I really, really, I mean really hate triangles. They are right in my top ten maybe five of things I won’t read.
The reason this bugged me is that Iysha seems like the type of person who wouldn’t judge her brother. Who would be there for him and is out there being a sexually free teenager unlike her virginal brother so has more world experience. He however has to deal with being a black gay Christian, what this means and not being comfortable with that. Having to decide if he will ever come out. If he decides he will there’s a whole Damien plot line if he walks away from Isiah’s friendship and will they become friends again. There’s the fact that his pastor father and his mom might either reject him or force him to never entertain sinful thoughts again and live a straight life or he will be disowned. Then the other issue of whether with all this stuff going on in his head, threatening to be real, will he and Jamal even bother to date knowing they will have to deal with it together.
Jamal seems fine with his sexuality and doesn’t care but it will inevitably still cause problems with his grandma. All of this, considering there is a good 70 percent of this book left, is really good material to dig into and how it affects Isiah and trickles over into Jamal’s emotions. For me, adding the fact his sister maybe wants the same guy for herself when she could have any guy, breathes of added drama because one can. And Jamal being hesitant about says he probably won’t give her up easily now that he has Isiah. Some people live for the drama, I am definitely not one of those.
If Jamal had said ‘I’ll just tell him’ that would’ve clearly stated how he felt about Iysha. He said ‘I don’t know’ which means he might actually like her on some level. Otherwise, why is he being indecisive? I don’t have any signs she’s vindictive enough to oust her twin. If anything she seems more inclined to ask Jamal for a threesome. That’s the way she’s written, and it would’ve been so much more fun had that been the case. However, his hesitation hints at so many other unnecessary tension and drama points I wasn’t willing to deal with. Almost like he wanted to sneak with them both because she sure as hell ain’t telling anyone they are dating and Isiah definitely isn’t going to tell either, so two people on the low? Why? Why put Isiah in that position. Iysha might bounce back as she’s likely had to deal with drama before but Isiah? Who knows?
I had to stop reading, take a step back, and think of the things I came into this for which I wrote three paragraphs back and if I was willing to take a gamble that all those things would be there and that all the things I do not like about stories like this, wouldn’t. Once the mention of a third person arrives almost everything attached to that would completely ruin my opinion of a book. I just wasn’t willing to risk that type of emotional annoyance for my reading experience. If I was wrong… great, but experience has proved me right more often than not so I don’t take that gamble anymore.
This book gets three stars even as a DNF. Mostly ’cause if this is your genre and certain types of drama get you more hyped instead of annoyed like me, this book is an easy five stars. I was honestly skirting on 3stars or four, possible five only because even if I hated the book it’s what I would expect for its target audience. And like I said in the beginning, the flow and ideas even with its faults were easy to get into. Rather than take the risk the plot would do a deep dive into one star, which I know I would’ve written, in this case I’m embracing that the target audience would eat this shit alive. They’ll probably read my review and just think I’m an ass and that’s okay. For the audience this book is written for, it gets a hard recommendation. They won’t be disappointed by this story, but for me, there are some things in romance I refuse to do anymore and I’m actually glad this book was written well enough for me to make a bold assumption after only 39 percent, that readers might still love it