Hard Work in WORK BOOTS AND TEES–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a newly-released a YA M/M story from Jo Ramsey. WORK BOOTS & TEES features the redemption of a deeply troubled boy who needs forgiveness, even from himself. This is the fifth book in a series–and probably needs to be read after SHOULDER PADS AND FLANNEL, at the very least.

Trigger warnings: child molestation, homophobia, acquaintance rape, depression, suicide.

Work Boots and Tees (Deep Secrets and Hope #5)About the book:
Sixteen-year-old Jim Frankel has become the thing he loathes, and he can’t stand thinking about what he has done.

After being accused of sexual assault by two girls, Jim serves out his sentence in a juvenile detention facility. He’s shocked by the arrest for what he thought was consensual sex, and terrified his own childhood sexual abuse has twisted him into a predator—just like the man who molested him.

Upon release, Jim is no longer welcome at his family home, and with nowhere else to turn, he travels from Massachusetts to Michigan to live with his father’s cousin, Delia. Keeping his head down, Jim works hard at Delia’s art supply shop and prays no one will find out about the awful crime he committed. It’s his chance for a new beginning, but when he makes his first friend in Man-Shik Park, Jim is afraid to let him get too close. But by walling himself off from the support Manny’s offering, Jim might sabotage the opportunities in front of him.

My Review:
There are some plot points revealed in this review that COULD be considered spoilers.

At nearly 17 y/o Jim is a cast-off teen, recently out of juvenile detention for the acquaintance rape of two of his girlfriends. This is a pretty murky issue, as I will explain a bit. See, Jim is a survivor of sexual, emotional and physical abuse–from his mother’s boyfriend, father and stepfather, respectively. He has had no counseling, never told anyone about the (very young) sex abuse, and he grew up an angry angry boy–bullying all and sundry. He intimidated so many of his peers that his overbearing nature led to him into “forcing” two girls of his acquaintance into sexual acts that they later claimed were non-consensual. There was no malice in the moment, but it was clearly a very problematic scenario. The girls felt too intimidated to say “no” and it later came out that they didn’t want to–Jim was sentenced to one month of detention, is on probation until age 18 and is registered as a sex offender until age 21. If he has no repeat offenses and continues his weekly court-mandated counseling his record will be cleared. (These are the parameters of his criminal record as outlined many times by the author. In her notes, she concedes that it is likely that Jim would have not served any time based on the testimony of the girls and other reviewers contest that Jim did not commit rape. Given that I have no expertise in this area I am going with this scenario as written, and will only address my opinion of the writing, not the likelihood of the legalities…)

Jim’s mother wants nothing to do with him, his father wants nothing to do with him, and he’s been sent from his small Mass. town to live in a small Michigan town with a distant cousin of his father’s, Delia. Delia is a kind and compassionate woman, and Jim is agoraphobic, constantly afraid that someone will learn of his history and bar him from working at Delia’s art shop. He refuses to attend high school, sure that he’ll be a pariah, or someone will learn of his history. Before the rape accusations, Jim was charged with assault for beating up an out-gay boy in his school (Evan from Book 1 of this series: NAIL POLISH AND FEATHERS). He’s also extremely self-loathing. He is ashamed of his abuse, and ashamed of his actions and ashamed that he’s attracted to boys. He’s not sure if he’s attracted to boys because he was born gay, or because he was molested by a man and that somehow “turned” him. And, he’s ashamed of that, too. He wants to serve out his probation hiding in Delia’s storeroom and getting a GED and being invisible.

Unfortunately he meets a boy that doesn’t want him to be invisible. Manny is a queer boy who is not exactly out, and not exactly in–he’s Ace (asexual) but thinks he’s attracted to boys. He wants to be friends with Jim, but Jim doesn’t feel worthy to the task. In the background, Jim’s suffering panic attacks over his Facebook account which has been littered with hate, on account of all his previous issues back home. He can’t bring himself to delete the page, however, because self-loathing Jim thinks he should be eternally reminded of his mistakes, and suffer duly. Delia tries and tries to reach Jim, but can’t. Depression takes over and there’s a touch-and-go scenario that results in hospitalization.

This book series is built upon the premise of kids in tough situations making decisions that empower them. Jim doesn’t make these decisions until late in the book. He seeks help for his long-standing depression over his abuse and molestation, he does the hard work of self-examination and he begins to heal. He discusses his history in confidence and that results in further trouble–and new alliances. He finally believes Delia and starts to accept that he’s not the monster that he’s built himself up in his mind, and he begins to see that he is worthy of love, and affection. There are some truly heartbreaking revelations in the book.

While the legal issues Jim faces may not be severe enough, or too severe for others, the fact remains that Jim is a boy on a collision course with disaster before he arrives in Michigan. He is, by turns, neglected and abused and his rage is the product of this horrific upbringing. His self-hate is killing him, and it is only through being honest and getting the support and help he needs that he is able to get out of this dangerous path. Jim makes amends the best he can–by hard work, and living honestly and doing his counseling, and for some this is probably not “justice,” and for others it is simply what was necessary to keep Jim alive. The book ends in hope–as do all the others. I really appreciated the clear delineations Delia and Jim’s counselors give him. I like how he meets people who have been in positions like his, and persevered. Having known molestation survivors, I believe that there are accurate representations of an abuse survivor’s mental landscape here.

This is a hard read, because it deals with really hard topics. Jim was the bully and monster of a few books in this series, and now the audience is tasked with finding Jim a sympathetic character who should be forgiven. I don’t think this is out of the realm of possibility. I certainly found Jim redeemable, and had suspected from the earlier books that he was a closet case. That said, I’m not sure how his story will sit with younger readers. For myself, a white het woman, I have the ability to forgive much. I’m not a questioning teen who may be the subject of homophobic hate, or an adult who barely survived high school bullying–both of whom would be possible readers in this genre. So, the book is good, but it’s going to be controversial for many reasons–most particularly surrounding  the rape accusations, I believe.

Interested? You can find WORK BOOTS & TEES on Goodreads, Dreamspinner Press, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Jo Ramsey started writing when she was five years old and hasn’t stopped since. Between ages 12 and 20, she wrote twenty book-length manuscripts, longhand in spiral notebooks which now dwell in the bottom drawer of her filing cabinet. Jo’s first YA novel, Reality Shift 1: Connection, was published in January 2010, followed in October 2010 by book 2: Filtration System. Jo lives in Massachusetts with her two daughters, her husband, and two cats, one of whom occasionally tries to help her type.

Catch up with Jo on Goodreads, her website, Facebook and twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Cephalopod Coffeehouse Dec 2015–SHOULDER PADS AND FLANNEL-A Review

Hi there, and Merry Christmas for those who celebrate! It’s the last Friday in the month, and that means I’m participating in the Armchair Squid’s blog hop. So….welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month. Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun. Today I’m sharing a review for SHOULDER PADS AND FLANNEL, a YA coming out romance from Jo Ramsey.

Shoulder Pads and Flannel (Deep Secrets & Hope #2)About the book:
High school football star Guillermo Garcia can count himself among the popular kids—for now. Although he secretly dates Evan Granger, who is openly gay and badly bullied for it, Guillermo doesn’t dare let his teammates, classmates, or close-knit family learn about his sexuality.

But Guillermo witnessed an attack on Evan, and now the school bullies plan to out Guillermo in retaliation. In their small town, word spreads rapidly, so Guillermo must make a quick choice—come out now on his own or risk having someone else do it for him.

My Review:
4.5 Stars for this realistic YA coming out romance. This is the second book in a series, but can be read as a standalone.

Guillermo “Moe” is a high school junior, new to his small Massachusetts town. He’s only been there six months or so, and he’s a closeted gay athlete. A football star. He is secretly dating Evan, a femme out-gay boy in his class. Evan was the MC from the first book in the series who had been assaulted (gay bashed) by two of Moe’s former teammates, Jim and Ray. They were kicked off the team for participating in a hate crime, and sentenced to probation.

Moe feels guilty for being gay. His parents are from Puerto Rico, and they have rather conservative ideas about manhood and family. They moved from NYC due to crime in their neighborhood, and Moe’s both happier and more frustrated. He likes his school more, but he laments the lack of anonymity. In this small town people notice things–like how he and Evan walk around town together. They threaten to reveal Moe’s “gayness” and tease his younger brother Ernesto. Moe fears coming out, and what that would mean for his position on the football team, with his home life and with Evan. Evan is still being threatened–now because people are mad that Jim and Ray are off their team, as well as his own femme style. It upsets Moe that he can’t really protect Evan they way he wants to–because doing so would clearly out him. But, after anonymous calls to his father at work and coded messages he starts receiving on social media indicate, it’s only a matter of time before everyone knows. Should Moe tell his family? His teammates? How “out” does he have to be?

I found this to be a refreshing look at so many aspects of teen life. There are girls who own their sexuality (“promiscuity”) and boys who own their homosexuality and bullies–physical and emotional–and kids taking things “too far” and homophobia and slut shaming and reality. Moe doesn’t always understand Evan’s need to be femme, and even wear female clothing and make up, but he loves Evan, and that means loving all of him. Evan doesn’t want to pressure Moe to come out, even though doing so would make their relationship easier–and probably get the bullies off his back.

Moe’s family is really wonderful, well, his parents are. They are thoughtful and concerned, and care deeply for their boys. His brother is a typical tween boy and has a lot of anger regarding the rumors surrounding Moe’s sexuality. There is much more to this story than coming out. There is hope and acceptance and manipulation and drama. I believe the ending is happy, for most of the parties, and it’s a positive and uplifting message. I expect this kind of situation is less-than-easy to deal with, but the narrative was sensitive and realistic at the same time.

I really like Moe and Evan. They are great kids. Their rocky start is sad, but there is certainly plenty of hope in the end. Also, this is a YA story which has no steam. Evan and Moe spend time alone together, but mostly they hang out, talk and occasionally kiss. Evan has never had a boyfriend before, and Moe wants to take everything slow because he believes, like his Catholic parents, that a sexual relationship is better saved for people who plan to spend their lifetimes together, and high school is too soon to make those kind of choices.

Speaking of Catholic parents, Moe’s parents plan a conference with their parish priest, to discuss Moe’s sexuality in confidence and determine if there will be blow back in their house of worship. Their plan is to leave and find an inclusive church if that is the case. Though we don’t find out the results of that meeting in this story, I really respected this family decision, and the comfort that it brought to Moe.

Interested? You can find SHOULDER PADS AND FLANNEL on Goodreads, Harmony Ink, Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

Thanks for popping in! Be sure to check out the review on fave books from my fellow Coffeehousers. And best wishes for a glorious holiday season! 😀