I liked this book a lot, some things made me a little uncomfortable, but I liked it a lot because Tyler, the main character, his inner monologue was so real. It was not PC–he wasn’t particularly rude or grossly offensive, but his thoughts are what people think, unfiltered. He is not gay, but after a terrible incident and against the sanctity of his efforts to hide in plain sight, he becomes friends with Kale, a guy that is gay. It’s interesting. How they first interacted, the aftermath of that, and the friendship that they built. There’s also Tyler’s personal experience and his exposure to things outside his norm, as witnessed by himself. The thoughts in his head while all of these things are going on, while his life is changing–some of the things that he says out of his mouth…it’s just all very real. I get it, completely. It doesn’t seem made up or too perfect–not scripted. I think the best word to describe it is: organic. And I really loved being there with him as he went through all of those emotions and trials and as he learned how to be himself outside of his head and learned how to be a friend.
I can relate with where he was in his head. I mean, I don’t think all the same things that he did, but I get how it is for him. I also can relate to how he acted. And with that, it all comes together in way like, if you were able to watch someone–him as a real person–and also see what was going on inside their head this story would be the perfect representation of that. You see all these things going on in his past and present, how they come together to make the person he is inside his head and how that translates to his outside persona. You get to see how they clash and meld with each other to continue to create the him of that day and the next and so on. It makes all the changes that he goes through throughout the story make sense. So Tyler, as a character, is so good. I think Kale as well as the secondary characters are good too, but since Tyler is our vehicle for the story, I can’t help but gush about him. He is a very rich, full of life, extremely well-written character.
Tyler prefers to blend into the background, so going to a school dance or its traditional after party, tastelessly called Aftershock, is really low on his list of high school achievements. Yet, he’s in charge of set design for the drama club, and they’re hosting the dance this year, so he’s got no choice but to be there. Fair enough, but the after party is out, right? Wrong. His friend and fellow drama club member, Jensen, convinces him to go. He gets there and is soon abandoned so that Jensen can stalk the girl of his dreams. He finds a bench and tries to do what he does best: fade away. It was sort of working until a classmate stumbles drunkenly over and sits across from him. And then another one, Kale, comes over as well, though he’s quite sober. Not too long after, as Aftershock tradition would have it, the cops come and everyone scatters.
It seems like it would be his saving grace, but as Kale pulls him farther and farther into the woods to escape capture, Tylers’s no longer sure what’s going on, why he came in the first place, and why he’s still running. And then they stop. Thinking they’re safe, they sit, Kale starts to talk and Tyler is a little weirded out by how much it seems that Kale has been paying attention to him, particularly because he thought he was invisible. After a bit, Kale kisses him and he lets it happen (the reason why he let it happen was kind of sad but sweet). The kiss is followed by Kale’s confession, but much to Kale’s heartbreak, Tyler confesses that he’s not gay. And that’s kind of a problem because no one knows that Kale is. And I have to tell you, what we see of Kale in those moments–shock, realization, and resignation–through Tyler’s eyes…it’s heartbreaking. But it gets worse before it gets better.
This is not a Gay-for-You story.
While Kale really just needed a friend to lean on as his high school life was turned upside down, Tyler needed someone to push him to step outside himself for once just to see, just to prove that he wouldn’t come apart at the seams without being able to be sown back together. Also, their journey didn’t happen in a silo; they had their families to deal with, friends or not friends to sort out, all the things that existed before the confession still going, and their futures. Going from those world-ending, soul-crushing moments to friendship was an awkward and life changing struggle for both Tyler and Kale, but I don’t think either of them would have fared as well without the other.
Unexpected is the perfect title for this story, because it truly was. I so wish that there was a continuation because I would love to see more of what happened at the end.
Most of what I’ve written above seems rather solemn, but this book had me laughing and laughing and laughing to the point where I had to catch my breath, where I could not go on reading because I just could not stop laughing. Eventually, I did sober up a bit, but it felt good to laugh like that even though I’m always afraid of stories that take me to such heights–particularly at the beginning–because I know there’s always going to be something heavy and hurtful to bring me down along the way. But those are my favorite kinds of stories.