Review: ‘One Boy’s Shadow’ by Ross A. McCoubrey

It really surprises me how I haven’t ever heard of ‘One Boy’s Shadow’ since it was published a few years ago. Granted, it isn’t as famous as recent young adult novels on Bestsellers lists, but it really surprises me it isn’t more well-known, especially since it involves three very popular demographics: supernatural, gay, and coming-of-age literature. The author, Ross A. McCoubrey, meshes together these three topics into a novel with amazing characters, a heartfelt story of love and loss, and made me want to appreciate those who I love and love me.

So what’s the story? Caleb Mackenzie is a fifteen year-old boy whose family recently moved to a small town in Ontario, Canada. Instead of missing his old home in Halifax, he quickly makes some new friends, one of them being a boy his age named Shane. As their friendship quickly becomes more than that, Caleb learns from him that his new house has a secret.

You see, Caleb’s family’s new home is a cottage on the outskirts of town called the Wakefield House, and it has a grim past. In 1943, the Everett family owned the house, and one of the sons there, another closeted teenager named Toby, disappeared without a trace. Over the decades, various future owners of the house have reported strange noises and sighting, and it isn’t long before our main character begins hearing his name, “Caleb”, along with unknown gunshots. Wanting to know more, Caleb, his older brother Blake, Shane, and another friend of theirs named Ryley, must band together to dive into the mystery of Toby’s disappearance, learn who murdered him, and possibly lay the young ghost to rest.

Whenever I hear about romance novels involving ghosts and demons, there’s always the catch of either a sappy love triangle, misunderstanding clichés that cause the couple to break up, cheesy dialogue that stems on ‘Twilight’ bad, or even all three combined. ‘One Boy’s Shadow’ doesn’t have any of that. First of all, the characters in this are one of the most genuine people I wish were real. Almost every word, every bit of dialogue, and every action and reaction they have are what make this novel great. Our main couple in this treat each other like a real couple should, whether it be in fiction or even with a real significant other. Both are trusting, empathetic to their feeling and the feelings of others, and work off of their personal interests like bread and butter. They tease each other, go on long walks by themselves, and support each other when they’re down.

My most favorite side character would go to Caleb’s older brother named Blake. I like Ryley and how good of a companion he is for our main leads, but it’s Blake whose stood by his younger brother throughout his life. He’s the older brother that has a smart tongue and is a ladies man but McCoubrey went the extra mile and created one of the most compassionate, caring, kind-hearted brothers of a main character. If I ever wanted to have an older brother, it would definitely be Blake Mackenzie.

And then we have the ghost himself, Toby. Much like Caleb and Shane, Toby’s personality shines in every paragraph and sentence. At first we don’t know much about him at the beginning of the story save for him saying Caleb’s name and an occasional strange occurrence, but we want to know more about him as the novels continues. We later learn that he had a secret relationship with another boy when he was alive. Without giving too much away, I felt unbelievable sorrow in my stomach as I read on.

That’s what I probably like about ‘One Boy’s Shadow’ so much. The teenagers in this talk like real teenagers, the adults in this talk like real adults, and the mystery kept me reading through until I finished the final page. I wanted to know what happened to the poor boy, wanted to know if he’d find peace, and know if Caleb and Shane’s coming out would be met with welcome arms not just to Caleb’s parents, but to their school.

Ross A. McCoubrey is a Canadian author I’ve never heard of before, but after reading ‘One Boy’s Shadow’, I guarantee I’ll read his next novel. Ross, if you’re reading this, I cannot wait.

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If you have any questions or already have an opinion on the novel, feel free to leave any comments. Thanks!

Review: ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger

I can’t think of a book that divides people more than ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger. Almost everything about this book is both praised and controversial over the decades since it was published. I’m not going to go that much into the controversy of this book, especially about the bit involving John Lennon’s murder, but I will talk about the split arguments with this. This is a book that readers either love or hate. Some people call the main character a classic icon of teenage rebellion, while others despise him and his personality all together. Some call this novel a perfect look into the teenage mind while others see it as a trashy, preachy waste of paper. Some even call ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ a masterpiece of American literature, and by God, others don’t even want to mention this book exists.

So what did I think of it? Well…

‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is set in the middle of the 20th century, just after the Second World War. We follow a young sixteen year-old boy named Holden Caulfield, who isn’t upset that he’s been kicked out of Pencey Prep academy. He decides to skip staying until Christmas for his wealthy parents to find out, and runs to the nearby New York City. We follow him walking and sleeping around the city…and that’s about it. Yeah the book is basically about Holden being cynical toward everyone he meets.

Probably the biggest problem with ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is that there’s basically little to no plot in this. We follow a teenager with a cynical attitude, he roams New York, tries to find a person to hear about his ‘problems’, and it takes 250 pages for me to want to die of boredom. I wouldn’t mind so much if Holden were made more interesting and were put in more interesting environments. Yeah he does risqué things like paying a prostitute to have a conversation with, and even walking through Manhattan when it is pitch black out, but we never see his personality being affected by it. He walks down a street, calls a random person a ‘phony’ (one of many memorable terms he uses), and monologues about how shitty his life and the world is while reminiscing about his brothers and sister. Good god, I was waiting for something different to happen.

Fans of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ say that this book is the epitome of teenage rebellion and is ahead of its time. However, some readers don’t fully understand what teenage rebellion is. Some see it as a teenager being a douchebag to everyone, but there’s more to it than that. Teenage rebellion is a phase that helps a young man or young woman grow as a person, and helps them create their own identity through breaking the mold they grew up in.

It has been presented well in other novels published recently. Margo from ‘Paper Towns’ by John Green breaks the rules because she’s lived in a suburb house that’s strictly about keeping a façade. Alek from ‘One Man Guy’ by Michael Barakiva breaks the rules because he wants to know who he is outside of being a perfect son in a traditional Armenian family. And in the end, they know their identity.

With Holden Caulfield, he doesn’t even change as a character.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about the iconic symbol of teenage rebellion shall we? To be fair, Holden does have a personality that can be likeable to some people. He’s extremely cynical to phonies, but is kind to the people he cares about. He’s smart, but doesn’t apply himself. He loves his little sister, and even makes promises he tends to keep. However, so many reviewers and readers also say that Holden is very whiny, and…yeah I have to agree that he is very annoying to listen to whenever he monologues about all the phonies and everyone he hates.

So what is it that catches people’s eyes with ‘The Catcher in the Rye’? To the novel’s credit, it has a fantastic grip on imagery. Whenever Holden isn’t being cynical, he describes New York City in a way that almost feels like a beautiful music video. I like the scene where he’s in Central Park, and you can feel the atmosphere dripping around him. Even a few characters in this seem like they have interesting pasts, but we don’t see them very long.

So what’s the verdict on ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger? I don’t regret reading it at all, and loved the style that the author gave this unique character, but teenage rebellion isn’t all about complaining for an entire novel-length book. If Holden Caulfield were put in a better story with an actual plot, it would’ve worked. For me it didn’t work, but I like to think of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ as a Rorschach test for classic literature. While I see this novel as a misunderstood look at teenage rebellion, others may see it as a masterpiece, and I don’t have a problem with it, as long as they don’t kill anyone in the name of J.D. Salinger’s most well-known novel.

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If you have any questions or already have an opinion on the novel, feel free to leave any comments. Thanks!

Review: ‘One Man Guy’ by Michael Barakiva

After hearing about the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, I thought I’d celebrate with everyone by posting my opinion on a book I read last month, but never got the chance to say my opinions on it. The book I’m talking about is a quirky gay romance novel that caught my attention with the cover and didn’t leave me disappointed. It is called ‘One Man Guy’ by Michael Barakiva.

Alek Khederian is a fourteen year-old Armenian teenager that lives in an Armenian family outside New York City. As his freshman year has come to a close, Alek’s parents want him to go to summer school in order to raise his grades up. Reluctant to give up going to tennis camp and bound by the wishes of his traditional parents, Alek expects the worst of spending three months with the same bullies and the same weird looks from other students.

However, he never expected to become friends with sophomore Ethan, the ‘cool’ kid at his school. Ethan is described by Alek as independent, confident, and very willful in his life. He hangs out with the troublemakers at school, dresses in whatever he wants, and doesn’t care about breaking rules once in a while At first, it seems as though Alek is invisible to him, until Ethan suddenly coaxes him to come with him to a Rufus Wainwright concert in New York City. From there, everything changes.

After a wonderful day with Ethan, Alek slowly starts to come out of his bubble and hang out more with his new friend, despite the fact that he reveals himself he is gay. Not only that, Alek himself may be starting to fall in love with him.

‘One Man Guy’ is the name of a song made by the actual Rufus Wainwright, and it tells not only about homosexuality, but also pertains to the loner and individual in us all. ‘One Man Guy’ is basically a book about an Armenian teenager discovering he likes boys, and starts to become more independent because of his first boyfriend’s support.

Alek and Ethan are one of the most adorable and well-written characters I’ve seen recently in YA gay literature. Alek is presented as a meek teen that respects his parents and is proud of his heritage, but wants to be accepted among his peers and be involved with what other teenagers do.

Ethan is also a very likeable as a character as well. I expected him to be just an average ‘cool kid’ with no defining personality to him like in other novels, but ‘One Man Guy’ took me by surprise and made an individual out of him. Ethan is portrayed just as Alek said he is, but also has a sense of direction and street smarts to him, which can make Alek the perfect foil for when they first meet. Bottom line, both of them make this book. Still, out of all the side characters, my favorite would have to go to Alek’s best friend named Becky, whom reminds me of a lot of teen girls I remember going to high school. She’s the kind of eccentric girl that is supportive and caring, even if she can be stubborn and selfish at times.

The only characters I have mixed feelings for have to be with the parents. Don’t get me wrong; they’re well-developed with the dynamics with their son. It is obvious Alek loves his parents, and they love him and want what they believe is best for him. However, they often feel less like characters and more like the type of strict parents you’d see on a family sitcom. In fact, Alek’s parents almost remind me of Fran Drescher’s fictional parents on ‘The Nanny’, even though it is weird considering Michael Barakiva is an Israeli/Armenian himself, and he doesn’t take this opportunity to dive more into the Armenian culture than he could’ve.

That doesn’t mean it ruins the novel, far from it. Another fun element of ‘One Man Guy’ has to go to the writing and sense of atmosphere. I love the quiet and calm moments, the moments when Alek comes out of his bubble and opens up more whenever he and Ethan go out on dates. My favorite scene that involved Ethan and Alek is when they visit New York City again, and a couple chapters are solely dedicated to them interacting with residents and shopping for a new look for Alek. There’s no bullying, no awkward moments, or no social commentary. It’s just both of them feeling freely and being themselves.

So what’s my opinion on ‘One Man Guy’? It’s a really good gay romance novel both fitting for gay and straight people. This gives a good depth into a part of the culture wars that still happen today, with Alek’s parents wanting him to keep with tradition, and Alek wanting to be a part of modern America, yet they need to find a common ground in order for him to live a full life on his own. What keeps it from being great are the few stereotypes and lack of explaining Armenian history, but there’s more than enough substance and Armenian cooking culture to pull people into the depths of its pages.

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If you have any questions or already have an opinion on the novel, feel free to leave any comments. Thanks!

Review: ‘Afterworlds’ by Scott Westerfeld

Scott Westerfeld is a genius. Once in a while I come across a novel that cleverly blends two narratives in a unique way; however, Afterworlds has taken this to a whole new level.

Our first character is Darcy Patel, a teenage girl who is excited and terrified that her first novel, coincidentally named Afterworlds, is going to be published. She quits college, and while experiencing apprehension about having her book edited and published, begins dating another writer new to the scene. I won’t tell you who, because, honestly, you won’t expect it.

Then we have our second main character, who is another teenage girl simply named Lizzie. After a near-death experience during a terrorist attack, she realizes she is what others call a “psychopomp” – a spirit guide who also acts as a grim reaper for ghosts. Enter Yamaraj, a Hindu boy who protects souls from rogue reapers and evil spirits.

What do these two narratives have in common? Lizzie is the main character of Darcy’s soon-to-be published novel.

Afterworlds is one young adult novel that all writers should read. It vividly shows the stress and fear involved in the complicated process of having a book or story published.

I also enjoyed the narrative structure. It’s like watching Suzanne Collins as she writes the first Hunger Games book, but both narratives are entertaining enough to keep you interested.

The chemistry between Yamaraj and Lizzie seems somewhat flat, mainly because they don’t see each other very much. However, you can make a constructive argument that Westerfeld wrote it that way to show how much Darcy can improve.

Either way, I never got bored. If Afterworlds sounds intriguing to you, check it out and feel what it’s like to step into the shoes of an author.

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On a side note: I had this review published in the nationwide magazine Teen Ink, which is copyrighted under my alias DomusVocis. Here’s a link to it: http://www.teenink.com/reviews/book_reviews/article/745913/Afterworlds-by-Scott-Westerfeld/

If you have any questions or already have an opinion on the novel, feel free to leave any comments. Thanks!