“To any gay teens who feel like they can’t keep their head above the water. Remember: you’re an otter. You can swim.” ~Kyell Gold
To conclude LGBT Pride Month, I’m going to review a book I’ve actually ben wanting to talk about on Reader’s Boulevard for a while. It’s actually the first Kyell Gold novel and first furry fiction I’ve read, and it really influenced me as a writer and as a member of the fandom. This book would lead me to be writing anthropomorphic animals in my written works, and I am proud to talk about Kyell Gold’s first installment into his collection of novels, short stories, and novellas set in his fictional Forrester Universe, “Waterways”.
At Number #1 from last week’s ‘Top 10 LGBT YA Novels I Recommend’ List, you’re still probably wondering why this is at the top of the list, am I right? Well, allow me to start from the beginning.
Set in the Forrester Universe’s equivalent of Milwaukee, “Waterways” is about a teenage otter named Kory Hedley, a young religious teen who had just broken up with his high school girlfriend and is being teased for being published as a poet. Escaping to the municipal pool for peace of mind and to swim, Kory literally bumps into another teenager named Samaki Roden, this one an intellectual black fox with a sense of humor. After a few apologies and exchanging numbers, the two become quick friends despite the fact Samaki is gay and Kory’s mother is religiously strict.
As time goes by, Kory suddenly begins to have weird dreams and becomes conflicted between his feelings for the fox and how he and his little brother Nick have been taught about homosexuality as Christians. However, that doesn’t stop him and Samaki from becoming a couple, and from this Kory opens up to a world and hidden part of himself he never knew existed. After that, everything changes. Secrets are revealed, unique friends are made, old friends are lost, family members become divided, and the young otter’s life he knew changes forever as college comes closer. However, will this end happily and with a conclusion Kory and Samaki can be contempt with?
Does the author like to split the book into only three VERY LONG chapters and a small epilogue? To answer the second question: yes.
I should probably bring up a small complaint that some people have for the novel, and it’s the format style Mr. Gold went with. “Waterways” doesn’t have chapters, and is split into three sections meant to symbolize Kory’s journey called “Aquifers”, “Streams” and “Oceans” followed by an epilogue. The reasoning for this is because the first section actually started off as an online story, and Kyell later decided to expand it to 300 pages. It’s not a terrible idea as it makes each section feel like a stand-alone epic, but it may irk a few readers.
With that said, where do I honestly start?
Despite the story itself not being original, what makes “Waterways” the LGBT book I highly recommend is how Kyell Gold writes so many simple but powerful elements into this novel. He brings us two characters, one who is a self-assured teenager from a poorer family and the other a religious upper-middle class teen who doesn’t know how to deal with the fears and confusion he is feeling.
And the driving force of the entire story are these two characters. Kory is an amazingly likeable narrator, whom anyone can relate to despite not even being human. He’s well-spoken, but hates to show off. He’s a firm believer in God and the Bible, but doesn’t stop his curiosity from being a rule-breaker and having an average life. He’s kind, but has limits, and sometimes lets his emotions control him, sometimes for the best and worst moments. And much like his species, he often likes to swim past dangers while treading through life’s unpredictable storms without being noticed.
However, even with a personality like his, you can relate to Kory 100% as he is going through this journey, especially if you’re religious. Speaking of which, that remind me of another good quality: his character and his beliefs.
What really pisses me off when it comes to authors writing Christian characters is that they sometimes make their religious views their personality and that’s it. Like any fictional person in a ‘Pure Flix’ film, instead of coming off as perfect, they come off as bland and stereotyped.
Kory Hedley is what makes a good Christian character; he evolves with society and himself. Forget that he’s gay or that he’s an anthropomorphic otter: this is a great character that Christian readers can relate to even if Kyell pulled the coming out story behind it. He may be a Christian teenager, but he’s still a teenager that does reckless things. He goes to see R-rated movies, jokes about how bad they are with Samaki, hangs out with friends at some clubs, and has sexual tension like any other young man, but at the same time he doesn’t like to swear and goes to church on Sundays.
Then we have Samaki, who is probably one of my most favorite furry characters of all time. This foxy young man (pun intended) has a personality that shines across every page he appears in and infects you with how confident and charismatically kind he can be. I mean this is a teenager who lives in a sketchy neighborhood, lives in a small house with only a few bedrooms, and is born into a low-income family of two working parents and four other rambunctious siblings. Even so, he’s only happy to be alive and breathe the air. And when he isn’t running track or working hard in school, he’s either reading or working on scholarships. Even so, he isn’t perfect; Samaki’s stubborn, but empathetic to others, he’s polite but can be frustrated, and is carefree but serious when it comes to either his relationships or schoolwork. The way he and Kory work off each other is also just adorable 🙂
His design is wonderful as well, giving off this mature but young sense of adolescence that’s reminiscent of Kory. In fact, the artist who got to do the cover and illustrations inside is amazing! Quick note: his name is John Nunnemacher (aka ‘Cooner’ in the furry fandom), and the way he drew the characters showcases their personalities and quirks. It makes me wish if he and Kyell would ever work again for future projects.
Kory’s mother is also interesting. Whenever she’s on the page, Mrs. Hedley is like a cheerful yet pessimistic single mother who acts like she wants to be in control of everything around her. It’s even creepier the way she acts calmly when Kory comes out to her, and talks to him about ‘pray the gay away’ camps like her son’s going through nothing more than a temper tantrum.
I wonder if Kyell will ever write something more about her back story.
To everyone who has read the book, my favorite side characters are your favorite side characters. I love Kory’s supportive and wise little brother Nick, I love Kory’s womanizing best friend (also an otter) named Sal, I love Samaki’s funny and witty fox family (especially his parents XD), I love Kory’s liberally religious pastor named Father Joe, and I laugh my ass off whenever Kory and Samaki’s friend Malaya (a lesbian bat with a cynical sense of humor) is in a scene with them. These characters are very memorable and leave an impression on you no matter how many times you read “Waterways”. I don’t know whether it’s because of their witty lines, their dialogue, or even their personalities, but these are the types of people that each have their own interesting story.
The only character I have a small complaint about would have to go to Kory’s ex-girlfriend named Jenny, and how she doesn’t even make an appearance in the story. We hear about her in conversations, but Kyell literally could’ve just written Kory being single and it wouldn’t change a thing. We don’t even see her at the climax of the novel. Still, that’s a small nitpick.
The way Kyell Gold writes this world is very reminiscent of today’s world. When he isn’t making painfully obvious puns (‘Schwarzenotter’? Really?), Mr. Gold creates a world where politics and American urban life blend together with anthropomorphic citizens. He even incorporates how species would work in a city and how they’d live, such as having Kory’s family live in a house with waterways as halls, having poorer neighborhoods turn the streets lights for nocturnal animals, and a multi-climate controlled homeless shelter for gay teenagers called the Rainbow Center Kory and Samaki eventually volunteer at. It’s sort of like Disney’s Zootopia on paperback.
Another great thing about “Waterways” is how it brings up so many topics without going into too much analysis, such as identity, college, homeless youth, sexuality, change, teenage rebellion, teenage angst, teenage love, and especially social classes and segregation (much like how real-life Milwaukee is very segregated). The way the book even optimistically explains how relationships, both sexual and friendly, can end without seeming uber-preachy.
That reminds me…I should probably warn you that even though this is a novel primarily for young adults, it does have sexual scenes between Kory and Samaki, yes sexual scenes between an anthropomorphic fox and an anthropomorphic otter. Granted it shouldn’t be a surprise to some readers, but then again this does have furries as the main characters and it can make some incredibly uncomfortable. They’re not long though, and unlike other LGBT books that exploit sex, “Waterways” has sexual scenes to show how Kory becomes more comfortable around Samaki and his sexuality. In the words of furry entertainer Uncle Kage, “Sex is a plot device, not a plot.”
Written beautifully and enriched with fantastic characters enduring complex issues, “Waterways” is a powerful story of coming to terms with your sexuality, and how it impacts your life, your religious beliefs, and your relationships. We follow Kory as he begins a gay relationship with his first boyfriend, and treads the waters as he accepts his sexuality. And what makes this seemingly unoriginal story work is how likeable the main and side characters are. It makes the journey even more refreshing when we read the epilogue, and how optimistic yet wary the future seems for Samaki and Kory.
There’s a quote Father Joe makes to Kory when he asks him about God and sexuality. I dare won’t tell it, but let’s just say it perfectly sums up the feel of “Waterways” and how a gay person should feel when it comes how God may feel about who they are.
I’m not going to act like this is a literary masterpiece or Kyell Gold’s magnum opus, but the stuff that’s good in this is really, really good. If you ever have the time, read “Waterways”, and be prepared to be entertained, sad, happy, and relieved at the final page.
The illustrations presented on here were illustrated by John Nunnemacher (aka ‘cooner’) respectively. If you want to check out more of his art, here’s a link to his website 🙂
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