My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Penny’s Rating: C+
Even as I start this review, I am still conflicted about this book. There were parts of it that made me uncomfortable. I really liked it, and one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much is because it wasn’t easy to like. It pushed my boundaries, and really made me re-examine some of my own opinions, especially my opinions regarding what I do and do not consider to be consensual sex.
Israfel (Raf) is a 29 year old Catholic priest. He knows he is attracted to men, but he considers his homosexuality a disease and an affliction, in fact he chose to become a priest so he could lead a celibate lifestyle. Enter Nate Mulligan, a 17 year old, that’s right he’s a minor, who is an altar boy at Israfel’s new parish in a conservative small town in New England.
In summary: Israfel and Nate are insanely attracted to each other, to the point where Nate won’t leave Israfel alone about it. Israfel struggles against his own urges, but gives into an falls for Nate. For obvious reasons, they keep their relationship a secret. They are found out by Michael, Israfel’s twin brother, who threatens to expose their affair to the Bishop. It’s only when Israfel thinks he’s lost Nate’s love that he finally begins to come to terms with who he is, and what will truly make him happy.
1. Sexual relations with a minor. O.K., let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Nate is 17, and Israfel is 29. Blaydon goes out of her way to make sex with a minor work as a plot device, and Nate is only a few months shy of 18 at the start of the novel. Nate is the initiator of their sexual encounters, and he is clearly not a victim, but I am still not completely ok with it, and I don’t think I have to be. It would bother me just as much if this were a hetero relationship, it’s simply my instinctive reaction to the premise of a 17 year old getting involved with a much, much older person. It works on paper for Nate and Israfel, but should probably be avoided in real life situations. It is made clear towards the end of the book, that the age of consent in the state that the story takes place is in-fact, age 17, so what’s happening in the book is not statutory rape. It would have been nice to know that for sure earlier in the story. I found a site: http://www.avert.org/age-of-consent.htm which raises awareness about HIV/AIDS. The link lists the ages of consent for heterosexual and homosexual sex in different countries and in U.S. States. There are a few states in the U.S. where you have to be 18 to consent to sex, but in most states, the age of consent is 17 or 16. I could go on and on about this one, but I think in spite of my own reservations, Blaydon justified and defended Nate’s age as best she could.
2. Nate Mulligan. Nate is a strong, sexually charged, astonishingly confident character. Never in my life have I met a 17 year old who was so clear on what he/she wanted as Nate is, much less a 17 year old who was home-schooled and educated by his super-conservative, super-Catholic mother, like Nate was. While Nate is clearly not a victim, and is very much a willing and active participant in his love affair with Israfel, I was left wishing he was real, and knowing he is not. The world would probably be a much better place, if all of us could be as awesome as Nate Mulligan.
For example, towards the end of an argument he has with Israfel, Nate declares, “…you know what else I realized, Israfel? I don’t want to be like you , okay? I am not going to toe your fucking party line and lie about what I do, what I am. There is nothing f***ing wrong with it and I ‘m not going to spend a single second with someone who thinks there is, someone who’s ashamed of me.. I am nothing,” he raps out, “to be ashamed of, I am fucking worth being with, and I am not going to spend another second with someone who thinks otherwise….” (page 119)
Let’s just say, I know few adults who would be able to so clearly articulate their own self worth.
3. The plot meanders, especially in the beginning. Israfel’s own inner monologue of self-loathing is all over the place, and it’s really not clear where the story is going. I almost stopped reading around the 20 page mark. It isn’t till you get to page 31, where Nate confesses his attraction to Israfel,(in a big way), that the plot really starts to move. It’s enough of a jolt to make you wonder if the first 30 pages were written after the rest of the book was already finished.
4. The relationship that develops between Nate and Israfel is intense. Their sexual encounters are racy, arousing, and sweet, Israfel is a complete innocent, having only ever kissed a boy a few times as a teenager himself. Israfel’s growth and transformation as he comes to terms with his own sexuality was complete and very believable.
5. Religion plays a role in Israfel’s initial beliefs, and in his transformation. Blaydon avoided directly addressing religious arguments for or against homosexuality, but did point out some biblical discrepancies, and raised several questions, but ultimately Israfel’s answers come to him in a rather unexpected and humorous way. I don’t want to spoil the plot, so I will say no more.
6. I can’t help but feel that there was a scene missing from this book where Israfel confronts his twin brother Michael a second time. Though it is clear that Michael would never accept Israfel as a gay man, It seems in the story that this was an issue left unaddressed for the rest of Israfel’s life.
For all of its flaws, this was an incredible book, and well worth reading. C+.