Is it the crush young Jesse Bryce has on the exotic Griffin Holyoke or something else that makes Jesse want to build a bridge of acceptance between his town and Griffin’s Pagan community? And can he do it? Something is drawing seventeen-year-old Jesse Bryce toward the community of Pagans who live in “the village,” just outside his rural Oklahoma town. Maybe it’s that he has a crush on Griffin Holyoke, a tall, dark-haired boy with a tree tattooed all up his back. Or maybe it’s that the Pagans accept Jesse for who he is, unlike his family—or his church, where he hears that being gay is a sin. After a man from the village is murdered while trying to prevent an assault on a girl from the town, Jesse’s confusion at the town’s unsympathetic reaction inspires him to set a mission for himself: to build a bridge of acceptance between the town and the village. As Jesse defies his parents and continues to visit the village, he witnesses mysterious rituals that haunt him with their beauty and intensity. And he falls in love with one enigmatic, mercurial Pagan who opens his eyes to a whole new world. This first-person story explores what can happen when we make conclusions about others based on too little information, or on the wrong information. Whether we’re misunderstanding each others’ religions or each others’ sexual orientation, everyone benefits from learning the truth. And everyone benefits from forgiveness.
First things first. The cover definitely grabbed me. It wasn’t what made me buy the book, that was the blurb, but it is pleasing to the eye and fits in with the story very well. Stones play a big part in it in many ways – physical, metaphorical and, I suppose to some, metaphysical. This brings me to one of the few negatives about the book, and to be fair it’s not about the book itself at all, and I didn’t know about it until I came to post the review. This is why I haven’t taken off any stars for it.
The book is listed as “paranormal”. I suppose, in some senses it is, in that there are some things that are likely to be outside the range of experience of many people. However, things such as energy work, scrying, spirit animals etc are not outside the experience of many pagans and to describe them as “paranormal” niggles me. I can’t say I’m offended because it would take a LOT more than that to offend me but from someone who has taken time and care to present pagans as “normal” people, this was disappointing, especially so because when reading the book I was touched so many times with how the pagan practices were presented as “different but normal”, and not inferior to christianity as is often the case. However, to designate “normal” practices as “paranormal” and putting them in the same category as werewolves, ghosts and vampires wiped away some of that goodwill.
That being said, on the whole, the treatment of pagans in this book was exemplary. Too often we see pagans and their rituals depicted in a negative light and it was refreshing to find a defender who does a great job in presenting pagans as merely people who live their lives differently. Griffin, in particular, was a fantastic character, and I wish I’d known him when I was younger. Ronan is slightly more difficult to warm to but he really comes through when it matters.
Jesse, the Main Character is interesting and complex. He certainly has a complex life. I like how the author deals with his struggles but doesn’t dwell on them. Yes he’s bullied at times, he has bad words sprayed on his locker and his family react badly to his coming out, but these things are incidental and told in a practical rather than angst-ridden way. It seems to me that, on the whole. Jesse is a well-adjusted, sensible and sensitive boy and I was rooting for him from the start.
There is a very rich cast of supporting characters from (surprisingly) the local vicar to the head of the pagan community, and all have their own voices. I particularly liked Jesse’s mother. What a woman – human, flawed but strong and loving. That’s the kind of mother I hope I am to my children (although I did react much better to their coming out).
There are some slight issues with the editing but they didn’t really detract from the story and I doubt the average reader who isn’t an author with editing rammed into every corner of their brain, would notice. After all even JK Rowling is guilty of the odd slip as even my young son noted once while reading Harry Potter.
As I’ve mentioned, there are many themes in the story and some of them only become apparent after finishing the book and looking back. One of the particularly strong ones is the mirroring of Jesse’s family’s reaction to his coming out and the reaction of the townies to the villagers. It is one of those books that, having finished, begs to be read again with different eyes. I shall certainly be doing that.
There are so many delightful scenes and elements it’s hard to choose a favourite but I have to say that every scene that takes place in the tree-house is delightful. Yes, there will be some who will complain about sex in a Young Adult book, but that’s not what it was about at all, it was about a connection of two souls in two very different people. As much magic happened here as anywhere else in the book.
On the whole I would totally recommend this book to anyone who likes young adult contemporary romance with a twist. If you’re interested in a peek into a different way of living then give it a whirl but I would not, however, describe it as paranormal.