I've been a huge fan of Andrew Smith since I read Ghost Medicine, and I thought I'd read all his books. So it was a surprise to discover this one I'd never heard of before. So I quickly snapped it up for my Kindle and dove right in.
Stark (or Stick as he gets called because of his height) is fourteen and was born missing an ear. Years of bullying about it have made him self-conscious about it so he rarely leaves the house without a hat. His older brother Bosten does his best to protect Stick, but he can't be there all the time. And even if he can stave off the school bullies, there's no way he can keep Stick (and himself) safe from the abuse at home.
Luckily both Bosten and Stick have good friends with families who embrace them - Stick with Emily and Bosten with Paul 'Buck" Buckley. But as they get older, the friendships turn into something more. Stick discovers he likes kissing Emily and when her parents are out of the house, sharing a bath.
When Stick comes across Bosten and Paul kissing in the woods and realizes Bosten is gay, he knows this isn't going to go down well at home. So he keeps Bosten's secret. But Bosten's secret is exposed anyway, and the only way Bosten can stay safe is to leave home.
Unable to feel safe or whole without Bosten, Stick leaves too, unsure where Bosten is, but suspecting he may have gone to their aunt's, the one place they felt loved and accepted for who they are. On the way Stick finds good people who genuinely seem to care about him and his well-being, and others who do terrible things.
Despite the challenges - some of them terrifying - Stick keeps going, certain that he'll find his brother and the safe, loving home he knows he deserves.
I loved this book. Stick was such an endearing character and the relationship between him and Bosten was beautifully realized. It was clear that the pair of them had stuck together through all kinds of indignities and horrors meted out by their parents.
The contrasts between their home with its rules and petty demands and the homes of their friends and most particularly their aunt were well drawn, and Stick's amazement as the differences felt very real.
There are some very obvious parallels between this book and my own Standing Too Close, so that may be why I responded so much to it (and hello, new comp title!)
But that aside, this is a powerfully emotional story with a spunky central character with a raw, real voice. I definitely recommend it.
But don't just listen to me. Here's the blurb:Fourteen-year-old Stark McClellan (nicknamed Stick because he’s tall and thin) is bullied for being “deformed” – he was born with only one ear. His older brother Bosten is always there to defend Stick. But the boys can’t defend one another from their abusive parents.
When Stick realizes Bosten is gay, he knows that to survive his father's anger, Bosten must leave home. Stick has to find his brother, or he will never feel whole again. In his search, he will encounter good people, bad people, and people who are simply indifferent to kids from the wrong side of the tracks. But he never loses hope of finding love – and his brother.