Page 45 Review by Stephen
"You are not gay.
"Why can't you get that into your thick and pimpled head?"
- Ian Tanner in the mirror, after an exceptionally funny, beautifully timed and very telling toothpaste gag.
Which makes him smile: he can laugh at himself.
How many teens have had precisely that conversation with themselves, only to discover further down the line that they might actually have been a bit wrong? Self-awareness comes to some of us later than others.
And let us be clear, this is aimed squarely at teens. It's an LGBT Young Adult love story, clean so very Mainstream, and as such we've racked it between FOUR POINTS and DELILAH DIRK for the moment.
Ian Tanner, on the left of the cover, is neither insecure nor defensive. He's easy-going, off-hand, popular, funny, with a beautiful girlfriend called Amilah who doesn't think he's quite as clever as Ian does. I think you'll like Amilah: she's astute and very much aware that most of her friends are dickheads, including sixth-form bully Spence. I wish she'd do something about that: get better friends.
On the other hand, Ian Tanner isn't quite as brave as he'd like himself to be. He finds it much easier to appease the physically strong, domineering Spence by being at his beck and call rather than stand up to him. I wish he would do something about that too: simply walk away at the very least.
Transfer student Cortland Hunt, on the other hand, has a fiery temper, doesn't "do" authority and reacts as if he has nothing to lose. He'll take Spencer on physically after even the slightest provocation and what he lacks in Spencer's weight he makes up for in ferocity and possibly something more. But Cortland has two massive disadvantages: he's an outsider, a loner, with no one to back him up; and - if I infer correctly from his brother Harvey, his best friend Irena and his social worker Zane - he has everything to lose. Perhaps what little's left of his entire family has everything to lose. He desperately needs to keep a lid on it.
The problem is this: with aggressive bullying, there is almost always no let-up. Bullies thrive on knowing that there will be no repercussions to their actions so face-saving is absolutely imperative. They will coerce others to do what they fear to do alone, and this is going to grow dark.
It's going to grow very dark indeed.
"So where is the love?!" I hear you cry.
It's in every line: both those written by Malin Ryden and those drawn by Emma Vieceli.
There is ever so much mischief and tenderness evidenced by and in both. There is a vulnerability to the art and an uncertainty in the dialogue whose speakers (in Ian and occasionally Cortland) seek to cover their tentative tracks. You cannot commit whilst in the closet, especially when you do not yet realise its confines or even acknowledge its existence. Trails of thought are left understandably unfinished and so much is left only half-said, often excruciatingly curtailed from without by what happens next.
The faltering is all so instantly recognisable and the tensions are so very taut.
There's also some deliciously funny dialogue and I've chosen some of the pages based on that.
I liked the distinction between "secret" and "private". I don't have that one for you, but you'll see.
Where this differs considerably from the majority of our yaoi is that this is less fantastical and far more fully grounded in an urban, sixth-form reality which we can all recognise: the rat race, reputations and the power-play provocations; the rivalries, the jealousies, the repercussions at home.
Between the two creators the foreshadowing is very well done, and there is so much of it, right from the prologue narrated with hindsight from some point in the future. The big bit on the second page I'm not going to give away. I want it to startle you first-hand with the book in front of you - and it will.
For it's even bigger than the accompanying snog during which Vieceli draws Ian wearing a highly distinctive shirt which emphatically isn't school uniform, so that when it finally (finally!) crops up again you know where you're heading - if not immediately - and the adrenalin starts pumping in anticipation as to how that scene will come about, then play itself out. Cleverly, what you will not see coming is a revelation just prior to that critical juncture which will complicate matters considerably.
More foreshadowing with even cleverer re-deployment: at one point Amilah compliments Cortland to her boyfriend Ian's face. Specifically she says, ""He doesn't need to talk much, he's a man of mystery... Besides, he's totally hot."
Many pages later and that sentence is echoed over and over again as Ian looks curiously at Cortland's face and exposed neck, studying them without being spotted for he looks away just in time, while attempting to assess and reassess his own feelings while the words reverberate - as the panels' only backgrounds - in his beer-fuelled, testosterone-charged mind.
He's wearing that shirt, yes.
Did I mention that I like Ian? He's disarmingly honest. Eventually, and in as much as he's thought things through so far, at least...
I warn you, however: this isn't all sweetness and light.
It's there in the tag-line: "A love story... but a bit broken".
You see, you may think you have begun to know Ian by the end of this volume, and you may have grown to love him in spite of his foibles, faults and misgivings, and because of the exemplary way that he fights through them, recognises them, reconsiders them and then acts with no excuses but with full, unequivocal apologies. But you know nothing of Cortland. He keeps his own counsel.
Oh, Courtland is pretty, he is ever so pretty. He has the sort of permanently, artlessly tousled male hair that Emma Vieceli excels at. She's also exceptional at eyes that drift off into space. So I'm not astonished for one second that Ian finds himself so self-surprisingly attracted on one level or another to his former rival.
I just wish he would be more wary.
Says Si Si Spurrier, writer of CRY HAVOC et al, so succinctly and eloquently:
"Should be required reading for all teens, and frankly anyone - by which I mean everyone - who's ever struggled to understand what's in their own heart."
Which, as I am inordinately fond of saying... "IS WHERE WE CAME IN, STEPHEN!"
Now, it's time for the innocent tooth-paste gag. That final panel is the clincher!