Uniquely told through letters from death row and third-person narrative, Bryan Bliss’s hard-hitting third novel expertly unravels the string of events that landed a teenager in jail. Luke feels like he’s been looking after Toby his entire life. He patches Toby up when Toby’s father, a drunk and a petty criminal, beats on him, he gives him a place to stay, and he diffuses the situation at school when wise-cracking Toby inevitably gets into fights. Someday, Luke and Toby will leave this small town, riding the tails of Luke’s wrestling scholarship, and never look back.
But during their senior year, they begin to drift apart. Luke is dealing with his unreliable mother and her new boyfriend. And Toby unwittingly begins to get drawn into his father’s world, and falls for an older woman. All their long-held dreams seem to be unraveling. Tense and emotional, this heartbreaking novel explores family, abuse, sex, love, friendship, and the lengths a person will go to protect the people they love.
This book is an absolute emotional rollercoaster.
First off, the characters are absolutely brilliant. Bliss is an expert at showing their bond and their impoverished situation that you can’t help but sympathize and find someway to relate to them.
I want to start out talking about the “twist” in the book. I’m here to say that while I feel it is easy for the reader to figure out what is really going on early in the beginning, Bliss wasn’t trying to create this HAHA FOOLED YOU moment, but rather write about the strong bond between two boys towards the end of high school. How hard it is to figure out where you stand in this adult world when you’ve already been forced to be in that situation for so long.
Bliss notes at the end how he felt this was mainly written to make a statement about death row, but I really felt that the story took a step to the back, as Luke and Toby’s characters where just so strong that it really made it about the trials of growing up and the unexpected that can happen with friendship and time.
The prose in this book are very strong, very compelling, and very emotional. I was very surprised when I saw that not many people are talking about it, as this book needs to be read more. I was very moved, and I loved every page.
What’s the most emotional book you’ve ever read? Let’s chat in the comments!