Man Up

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I wanted to get into this story. Like really wanted to. The idea of journeying with a boy who deals with bullying and sexual identity who eventually finds his way. Nothing like a good coming-of-age story. But the more I dug into this the more that didn’t happen. The depth I was expecting just wasn’t there.

There is a lot of tell and not show in this story. In the first chapter alone we are told that Mitch starts wearing his mom’s clothes at 5. His brother is two years old and doesn’t like him. His mom loses her jobs and they move in with his cousins. He is sexually abused by two of them for the whole summer. I said it in one paragraph but essentially this is what happens. But nothing is shown. Each thought gets a paragraph or two and then it’s on to the next one. The problem with this is that later on this rape scene is extremely important and I had problems identifying with the future scene because this scene was missing.

By not putting on page the emotions Mitch feels at the exact time this first encounter happens, in all its uncomfortable makes readers squeamish detail, when the later scene happens a good two years later it’s hard to connect with what Mitch is feeling. Even though there’s more detail that detail is mostly related to how he’s having flashbacks to the summer two years ago and the readers can’t flashback with him because there was literally one paragraph to say he was sexually assaulted and another to say it went on all summer. I didn’t even catch the paragraph about all summer until after I did the video review, so I missed it more than three times. It took a fourth read for that one additional slice of info.

The other thing is the stuff with wearing his mom’s clothes didn’t come back in the story. Was it a phase? Did he always know he was gay? As a teen does he lean more towards less masculine attire? I got the impression it was to prove he knew he was different and probably into things guys shouldn’t be. But later on, when he is sixteen he says he’s not sure if he likes boys. This is weird because in chapter one he states that by the time he was sixteen everyone knew he was gay because he was that feminine. So there’s some confusion plot-wise there.

Also in this same first chapter is his brother not liking him. That was the one bit I skipped earlier. I can understand this with him being 14 and Mitch twelve cause teens are generally out there doing their own thing. But I couldn’t connect with it for similar reasons to the sexual abuse. It wasn’t physically on the page. I have no tangible reference for when they started not getting along. Based on sports or groups you join in school your best friend could be within a two-year age bracket of you. So, without the older sibling not wanting to be around the younger not-teen-yet sibling two years isn’t a big enough gap for total separation without being able to see why. What happened from age five to twelve with Mitch and his brother that the 14 year old doesn’t like him, stand up for him in school or want to be around him. It’s only said that Mitch wanted to spend his every waking moment with his brother and it wasn’t reciprocal. The only mention of them in a scene together was when he was twelve and his brother was 14 and they shared page time for about two paragraphs.

Not showing their relationship on page, and not showing the situation with Mitch and two of his cousins on-page was a very big part of selling the ending of the book and the second sexual abuse situation that I already expressed I couldn’t connect with as deeply as I know the author wanted me too.

Even more so, where the older brother is concerned, Mitch is bullied in school and he’s lamenting the fact that his brother never stands up for him. Showing this abuse would’ve been great, and letting readers feel the sense of rejection when his brother acts like he didn’t see it would’ve been even better. If he meets someone who does stand up for him the payoff isn’t big because readers haven’t been allowed to feel with Mitch when he was abandoned. We are only told this has happened. And this is all first chapter stuff.

The most important miss in not showing readers this relationship is the phrase man up. Mitch tells us he says this but it’s never on page. So when it has a positive switch at the end it doesn’t work cause, again like with the abuse, there is no previous on-page reference for it.

To be fair it still wouldn’t have worked but more on that later.

Other odd plot choices are that after telling us, and it’s in first person which means Mitch is aware of these things, that he is so obviously gay you could tell just by looking at him, expecting readers to think a girl would willingly talk to him wanting to be more than friends is a massive stretch. She even says ‘is that your mom I saw you with a couple of days ago?’ So she’s seen him walk. Heard him talk. And has him physically in front of her. If it’s that obvious her not being straight up about just wanting to be friends is weird. Mitch even thought it was weird. For clarity the summer is over and his mom has a job now and they have moved to a new school district and, his eighteen-year-old brother has already moved out with his girlfriend before his mom lost her jobs so a lot happened in that first chapter.

The point is that if the author has gone out of their way to make it very clear everyone knows he’s gay, he gets bullied for being feminine, and quite possibly goes to the same school as her so she should know. Even just talking to him face to face would be giveaway enough based on what the reader has been presented. Yet she’s all we’ll meet up later. Then shows up at the house, and invites him to a party, and when one of the guys there asks why she’s with that faggot, so the guy throwing the party knows her so chances are, again, they might all go to the same high school, she shows zero signs of acknowledging this and asks Mitch to dance. He almost immediately starts twerking.

Firstly dragging him to a party when they are still strangers is odd given how obviously not-straight he is. Also, Mitch said the bullying at the new school was the same and the highlight of his day was running home to his sanctuary after school. He has no friends and is basically an introvert who can’t wait for high school to be over forever. Someone who’s that insecure, doesn’t enjoy being around his peers, and hides in his home the moment school is done, wouldn’t say yes to a complete stranger he only met hours ago. He wouldn’t go to a crowded place filled with people who do all these things that make him want to give up on life. He strongly dislikes these people and most people who get bullied will try to be as small as possible to avoid contact with their tormentors. So not only is walking into a den of them strange, but accepting a dance and then twerking without the alcohol to loosen him up checks all the wrong boxes of what to do to avoid conflict.

Mitch runs away, maybe crying, can’t remember, embarrassed and that is the only reason for all this stuff I can’t make sense of. To create another point to raise empathy in readers for Mitch. Getting there just didn’t make sense so again it was hard to connect with it.

Two years pass meets a guy. Guy picks him up and since I already touched on how I couldn’t connect with this second somewhat on-page rape scene I’ll talk about the pickup. When this guy acts shocked Mitch has never had a boyfriend he says most guys want someone more masculine like they are. This again states clearly he is so gay everyone knows and the whole girl to party situation doesn’t fit. But this response is all sorts of wrong. Being black and gay and raised Christian this response bothered me not only because it’s not unique but mostly it doesn’t fit in this instance.

Mitch has been bullied his entire life. He actively goes out of his way to not interact with humans. He even said during the weird he doesn’t know if he’s gay moment, after saying his gayness is so strong you could see it blindfolded, that he was just too scared to try. If he did try he’d probably end up with someone as obvious as him and it would be a struggle but he doesn’t even know if out gay guys would be into him. Because of all these things he’s single, not because masculine guys are out there looking for masculine guys. Even his first foray online he hooks up with a friend that calls him ‘girl’ at the club they go to so this response just didn’t fit his circumstances.

This guy is the one who commits the almost on-page second-mentioned act of abuse. My problem here is that having Mitch calling out his cousins names and even go so far as to say he’s going to run to his auntie, who was a drunk and probably wouldn’t care, didn’t hit the right note because I couldn’t directly relate it to the first instance because that one wasn’t on page. It felt more awkward than triggering, intense, and emotionally draining. It’s like my brain knew where it needed to go but I couldn’t get my emotions to travel there. The first half of the book wasn’t heavy enough to sell this scene.

The ending is all about insta-love but it doesn’t work because with all this trauma, that I’m already having trouble connecting with, there is no way you can meet a guy one night and be in love by the next afternoon. This brings up the other awkward plot point that literally connects to everything beforehand. This guy picks him up for a date and takes him to the gym. Then takes off his shirt and orders Mitch to work out with him. This, just like the girl asking him out makes no sense, and then, predictably, someone in the gym starts making gay slurs a fight ensues and driving away from the gym there’s a big breakdown about how no one has ever stood up for Mitch. Sigh.

The relationship with his brother was not delved into enough to sell this. The fact he was bullied and had no friends also was never really put on page so there’s no emotional connection there, and most importantly it’s obvious, just like the twerking bit, they went to the gym only so the author could have the fight scene so that Mitch can have this breakdown and this guy can say you’ll never have to worry about that again cause he will now stand up for him. And then later, In the middle of first-time consensual sex, the perfect time to reveal the rape comes up and then they continue to do the do and lay in each other’s arms after. They move in together in under a week. I think that’s the fastest insta-love I have ever read. Not even a full 24hours.

With all of the emotional trauma that came with the life Mitch had lived, unfortunately, this quick love conquers all ending doesn’t fit. That’s a lot of baggage to offload and you don’t just up and trust the first person who shows interest. The last time he did that only a few months previously ended badly. It takes time, weeks, and consistency to regain a trust that has been so severely broken. If this were a romance novel insta-love gets a pass. But it isn’t so this just seemed rushed. It didn’t fit.

And, lastly. He starts going to the gym for real with this guy, and as he gets more toned and stuff starts acting more masculine. This really triggered me just like his answer to the guy who picked him up in the grocery store. Especially since his now boyfriend of six months says man up to him and it’s now supposed to be a good thing. It all breaths that there was something wrong with him for being feminine and his identity even as a gay man is defined by the fact he now carries himself more masculine. Why can’t he be leaned, toned and still feminine as hell? Why can’t the very things he was ashamed of, the things this new guy liked when he first saw him, be the things that empower him to now live his truth? Why is he becoming more masculine? It made the man-up bit seem even more off than it did in the beginning. I was a bit disappointed by this take on Mitch finding himself.

This book hit all the right notes. However, not putting the relationship with his brother until he finally moved out on his own on page didn’t help the overriding plot of Mitch finding himself. Not digging into the first sexual abuse encounter didn’t allow the depth in the flashback encounter or the reveal to the final love interest at the end hit the emotional notes the author was aiming for. Weird plot choices like the entire girl-to-twerking scene, and going to the gym on the first date felt like forced setup to deliver on previous plot points that weren’t fully developed. The recurring phrase with the mom was okay but again there wasn’t enough page time with Mitch and his mom to sell just how much he was the centre of her world, or how she reacted to the animosity between him and her older son.

This book needed to take the time to dig into all of these and flesh them out in their uncomfortable, make readers squirm and want to put the book down because it’s getting too real emotions, so it could sell just how low and at the end of his rope Mitch was. And it would also sell the emotional release at the end of the book once he finally finds what he’s always wanted. More POV’s or even writing it in third person might have helped but even if it stuck to first person everything needed more fleshing out. Unfortunately, with it as it is, it felt like too much tell and not enough show so I couldn’t get all the feels the author intended out of this story. For me, it just wasn’t enough.

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