Luke may never have been close to his father, but he feels like he knew him. Jay was a frustrating parent – always urging Luke to go to mortuary school, disapproving of his Broadway aspirations, and favoring his other children. He even had the audacity to die mid-argument, forcing additional guilt on Luke for never meeting his expectations.
However, Luke’s assumptions about Jay are thrown into turmoil at the funeral when an enigmatic stranger, Tom, expresses gratitude that Jay finally shared his past with his children. When Luke can’t hide his confusion, Tom realizes his mistake and bolts. Riddled with questions, Luke confronts his family. He is shocked to discover that everyone guards the truth that Jay was a transgender man who’d been raised as a female. Practiced at keeping his father’s secrets, they’re unwilling to reveal anything further at Luke’s demand. Devastated by Jay’s lack of trust in him, Luke feels forced to abandon the family who deceived him although leaving them behind won’t answer his questions.
To discover the reason his father hid his gender identity, Luke seeks the only other person with answers, Tom. In Luke’s eyes, he is owed an explanation, even if it’s a difficult one. However, Tom harbors a deep protective devotion to Jay, a loyalty he feels the truth would betray. Additionally, as a man suffering with terminal cancer, he has no desire to drudge up painful memories by playing Luke’s Virgil. Luke must earn his trust before the secret past of both men dies with Tom.
This book really was a journey. Not just for the boy, but for the reader. In my case it was a journey from wanting to give up the book altogether because the characters infuriated me to not wanting the book to end. I hated Luke at the beginning, but I had a feeling that was kind of the point. To be proud of him when he finally matured.
This isn’t a book I’d recommend reading at bedtime, because it is at times shockingly sad. And the opening chapter really caught me off guard. I don’t want to give anything away, but I would have liked a warning about the graphic nature of a couple of scenes.
There were some nitpicky issues with the style and technique of the writing, but the story is a good one. In the POV switches we got a little repetition, and there was a bit too much telling where there could have been showing, but the author definitely manages to suck you into the emotion of the plot.
I loved the device of Luke being referred to constantly as boy in the beginning, and his visceral rebellion against the word and its connotations. I loved the parallels between him and Tom – how their self-absorption made them blind to the good things available to them, and holding them back.
The last quarter of the book is page-turningly emotional, and I was legit bummed when I turned the last page.
I just wish we could read Jay’s story from his POV. That, to me, is the real triump of the book, but what we get in glimpses from the other characters isn’t the full story at all. Then again, maybe it’s nice to have a life built for us through the eyes of their loved ones.
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