Page 45 Review by Stephen
Oh what a breath of fresh coastal air in beach-glass blues whose depths, especially at night, you can sink into!
There's the pallid, ghostly glow of the cell phone across Ari's face as he lies back on his bed - ever so tentatively hopeful about a bravely sent text message, then resigned about receiving any reply - and the fireworks in an evening sky, viewed from a hillside vantage point, are as thrilling for the reader as they are for those sharing an early, intimate moment.
Over and again, Panetta and Ganucheau display a profound understanding that there are pivotal moments in our lives that will linger with us forever. Accordingly, they let those quietly moving scenes play themselves out during the satisfied silence that follows, for example panning away across a front garden to a flourish of foliage beyond.
And at a full 350 pages, they are afforded plenty of space to do so.
Recommended especially to those of you who relished the Tamaki cousins' astutely observed THIS ONE SUMMER, BLOOM is as much about the myriad broader aspects of any friendship - both established and burgeoning - as it is about the romantic affections gradually stirring then establishing themselves in young Ari's heart, for the first time ever in his life towards any other individual.
I think we can all relate to that: the puzzle as to what one is feeling which can take months to figure out; the yearning for more in the meantime, the gut-churning hollow during any brief absence and, above all, the not-knowing as to whether those acute sentiments and physical sensations are reciprocated in part or at all which David Bowie so consummately communicated in 'Stay'.
How do you even broach the subject? Will it ruin things if you do...?
It just so happens to be towards another lad, a slightly older youth called Hector with a positive, even and balanced maturity beyond his years which makes him almost unknowable to a more turbulent mind like Ari's, for Ari has no idea what he wants from life other than, he believes, to escape what he considers to be the confines of his family bakery business for a more creative life in a much bigger and more culturally fertile metropolis.
Hector, meanwhile, is a beaming ray of practical and positive sunshine, and although far from overconfident he is the first to see the best in others, like Ari's parents practising the delicate art of stretching phyllo pastry dough in perfect harmony and with consummate skill.
"What? The phyllo?"
"Yeah. They're in sync. It's so cool."
Notice the absence of any contradiction, Hector instead moving on to what moves him. A page later Hector expands:
"I would love to have something like that... To be on a team with someone... and to be better together than you ever could be alone."
Hector has an idea about what he wants, partly because he's also experienced what he doesn't want: a relationship that wasn't in synch but overly reliant and over-clingy. Ari only learns that Hector's had this relationship with a guy by overhearing halfway through. It startles Ari as much for the normality and so casual, unguarded candour of the conversation as for its revelation, but it neither alarms him nor turns him into a suddenly self-aware sea of raging hormones. It's simply something to be pondered - not brooded upon - because it's time for all the friends to have fun at the fair instead...
All of which is to be applauded. All of it!
To their enormous credit, the creators avoid clichés whilst dotting down markers instead which we can all recognise in our own and others' lives, regardless of our sexuality:
The first romantic physical touch, when Hector unexpectedly grabs Ari's wrist - superb focus, there - in an exhilarating, shared "Let's get out of here!" manoeuvre.
There's that shared firework display and rooftop flat-on-your-back star-gazing experience (it may have been cloud shapes for you) in which one learns from the other's prior knowledge, thoughts or experience.
Then there's the incremental bonding over, again, shared pleasures, like baking bread together, wherein the more sweeping, organic border panels are demarked by blooms of floral bunting.
I won't list which specific, seemingly mandatory stepping stones are refreshingly omitted for fear of spoiling surprises and deflecting your attention from what is so wonderful here. Instead, one of the things I loved best was Hector's firm-but-fair attitude in not settling for second best and having learned from a previously clingy, cloying relationship and so not putting up with what he would be far too kind to call emotional blackmail in a relationship that is burgeoning but has not yet even established itself!
"What are you doing here?"
"What do you mean? I came back a day early. I saw some friends and decided I wanted to get back to work! I missed this place."
Hector came back a day early, even though he was with friends whom he hadn't seen in yonks, because he wanted to see Ari! If you were Ari, wouldn't your heart flutter...?
"Well welcome back."
"Hey, what's going on?"
Hector gingerly releases Ari's arm.
"Okay...Sorry... Are you okay?"
"No! You left me here, Hector! Like I just didn't matter. And I'm obviously not important to my friends."
"What are you talking about?"
"I'm useless to my family. I just don't know what I'm doing."
"Ari. Nobody knows what they're doing. You're not alone in that."
"Don't act like you understand me. If you did, you wouldn't have left me here."
Oh. So here's your pick-a-plot moment:
Do you sweep cute Ari into your arms and tell him you understand everything and that you'll never leave him again?
Do you give him a slap and tell him to wise up to what he's got going on for him, sugar, not least with a hot stud like you?
Do you say, "Well, I have evidently not been patient enough, so please do explain, for I am here to listen indefinitely to your petulant whinges"?
Or do you write and draw the next two panels instead, which are far from obvious but absolute class, then leave yet another double-page spread space to breathe...
And breathe out.
There's some startlingly bad behaviour in evidence both on the part of Ari - who has a lot of growing up to do, but didn't we all before we grew up? Have I grown up? - and within his circle of friends, so please don't mistake this for one long cheesy grin. I've read some of those books and they bored me rigid. There are harsh times ahead for almost everyone, but also resilience and cake.
I leave you with re-stated admiration for Panetta & Ganucheau, but also for David Bowie because, boy, did this resonate with me, aged 17, from 'Stay':
"That's what I meant to say or do something.
But what I never say is stay this time.
I really meant to so badly this time.
"'Cause you can never really tell
When somebody wants something
You want too..."