Disclaimer: The author asked me to review this book, and I accepted a free copy.
This is not a book I would have read based on the blurb. I am so grateful that the author asked me to review it, because I was actually blown away by it.
Ms. Grammar Snob will have her say, so I'll get this out of the way at the outset: The book could benefit from at least one more pass with a blue pencil (or tracked changes, anyway). There are some obvious typos. There are some words that I think are misspelled; however, the author's British, so maybe they are just alternative spellings that are not typically used in the US. My biggest quibble is with punctuation, especially the lack of apostrophes in possessive nouns. There again, British English punctuation rules may be different from those in the US. In any case, my eyes tripped over those things and it was a bit annoying. (Because Ms. Grammar Snob is kind of a bitch.)
Now, for the good stuff:
Gabe is a young man with a terrible secret: he has what he considers to be a shameful deformity. He hangs out with a bunch of other outcasts, some of whom cross the line to juvenile delinquency. Gabe is an artist, who is betting his future on an upcoming art exhibit at his school, hoping to parlay his art into a job of some sort when he graduates, since he has no other particular plans for the future. While he is working to finish putting together his collection for the exhibition, he participates in a theft planned and coordinated by one of his criminally inclined buddies, while pining for the attention of the lovely, rich and beautiful Grace.
As it happens, Grace's life is not so wonderful, and Gabe's life is not that bad, all things considered. What is more, the two of them have a connection that transcends their different backgrounds and social status. Best of all, Grace actually loves the "deformity" of which Gabe is ashamed, and encourages him to see himself as special and gifted rather than deformed.
Grace and Gabe face personal pain and tragedy together, and they ultimately transcend the barriers of prejudice and class to soar off into a future that the reader just has to believe will be happy for both of them.
The writing itself, in terms of evocative visual imagery, emotional involvement, characterization and thought provoking turns of phrase was outstanding. I was drawn into the story immediately, and read the whole thing in only a couple of days: I couldn't put it down. It made me squirm in places at the meanness, filth and squalor in which some people live. It made me smile when surprisingly good things happened that I didn't expect. It made me cry with both sadness at the unnecessary shame that too many people carry around in their daily lives, and with happiness when characters were able to get past their fears and shame, rising to a new level of existence.
This was not the kind of story I would ordinarily have read, but before the end of the first chapter, I was hooked, and I became more enthralled by the story as it went along. Yes, there were some stereotypes, but the front-and-center characters were compelling and three-dimensional, and I cared about them deeply. It was heart-breaking to read about so many people hiding so much pain, so unnecessarily. Every time they stepped out and let go of their shame, they inevitably found love and affirmation. Why is it so hard for humans to allow themselves to be happy?
In the first third of the book, I found myself thinking of Gabe as the Holden Caulfield for a new generation. By the end of the book, I found him to be much more than that. The redemption that his presence brings to his world borders on Christological, without being religious.
I was inspired and humbled by the story. I'm happy to recommend it. Be sure to have some tissues on hand.
Buy the eBook here, please! The author's Smashwords page is here.