“Now that we’re all depressed,” I said, “who’s ready to dance?”
Shaun David Hutchinson has written a poignant and original coming of age story that is fresh of breath air in the YA genre.
One of the greatest strengths of this novel is its narrator Ozzie. Ozzie’s boyfriend Tommy is MIA. Finding him is
downright impossible slightly difficult given that no one else remembers Tommy. Photos, texts, diary entries they no longer include Tommy’s name. But Ozzie remembers him and refuses to believe that Tommy is an ‘imaginary boyfriend’. Between endless visits to different therapists, his parents impending divorce and his brother’s decision to join the army, Ozzie is having a bit of a thought time. Added to that are Ozzie’s two best-friends, Lua and Dustin, who have troubles of their own, and Ozzie’s new project-partner Calvin, a once brilliant student who is obviously isn’t coping very well either. Hutchinson is able to handle many upsetting and serious subjects: depression, suicidal thoughts, sexual assault, abusive relationship, and sexuality, to name a few. He deftly interweaves the struggles of the various characters, and his unflinching portrayal of different forms of trauma, loss, and fear, is both raw and honest. The emotional weight carried by the storyline is counteracted by Ozzie’s sharp and engaging voice. His thoughts and comments provide a flash of humour in what would otherwise be a depressing background.
The cast of characters exhibit distinctive personalities. Hutchinson doesn’t do diversity for the sake of diversity. That his characters showcase different sexual preferences and or identify with different genders never comes across as anything but natural. Moreover, Hutchinson doesn’t reduce his characters to a ‘label’. They have problems and issues unrelated to their choice of clothes or of partners. His characters were interesting outside of what would usually ‘define’ them in our society (or in other books..). More important is that I cared for them. All of them. Ozzie, Lua, Dustin, Calvin, Tommy, Ozzie’s family, Tommy’s mother, heck, I even cared for Trent. Ozzie’s various relationships with the other characters were genuinely depictions of how relationships are: serene and fraught, filled by laughter and silences, made up by awkward and perfectly natural moments.
Ozzie’s stressful final year of high school is emphasised by his knowledge that the universe is shrinking. Soon people forget about the existence of other planets and the stars. Ozzie searches for a meaning behind this ‘shrinkage’, questioning vary different theories of the origin of our universe. Science is often a topic of hot discussion, especially between him and Calvin. I wasn’t sure where it would lead, and I found the finale to be a bit underwhelming. I was hoping for ‘more’ but the ending did provide a credible conclusion. Maybe I just didn’t want to leave Ozzie, or I just wanted him to have more of ‘a fairy tale ending’. Looking back, I’m sort of glad that Ozzie’s story ended the way it did…Still, my heart ached for him
My rating: 4 stars