Back to my LGBT reading list for this one.
Tristan and Robbie are 18-year-old identical twins. Physically, it is impossible to tell them apart. But the resemblance stops there. They are not close, they have never gotten along. Tristan loves the theatre, has a natural talent for dance and singing, and dreams of performing on Broadway. Robbie is slated to go in a top round for the NHL draft this year. A gifted centre, he dreams of nothing but the playing for New Jersey Devils. He is their parents’ hope for the future. Oh. Another difference? One twin is gay, one straight.
One night, Robbie tries to kill himself. The pressure of his draft year, along with the secrets he keeps are too much for him to handle. Instead of getting him help, the twins’ parents decide to hide the truth. They don’t want his draft value dropping. So Tristan becomes his brother’s keeper, and the two boys get to know each other for the first time in their lives.
Tristan has lived his life in Robbie’s shadow. Although a good hockey player himself, he is not a star and has never dreamed of being one. But as he gets to finally know Robbie, he sees beneath the cocky exterior to the terrified boy who knows that if his secret gets out, his dream could be over. At the same time, Robbie discovers that his love for Tristan is more powerful than his fear.
This book tackles a topic that is so relevant and important today, and I was excited to read it, hoping to yell from the rooftops “READ THIS!” after. I hate to be negative when such a story is so needed. And I still think it should be read. But to be honest, while the idea is fantastic, it falls somewhat short in the execution.
The idea, the story, the support for gay athletes. So needed.
I really love that the book is written from Tristan’s perspective. He is the straight twin, living in his brother’s shadow, raised in a hockey family to believe that homosexuality has no place in sport. You can’t be gay and play hockey. He has no idea his brother is gay, mainly because he doesn’t pay attention. Robbie tries to tell him, several times, but Tristan doesn’t want to see. He is too comfortable in his envy and self-pity. But when he finally does see it, he starts to understand not only Robbie’s pain and but also his bravery.
Author Mia Siegert illustrates clearly the psychological trauma that a young gay athlete can go through. Actually, that any gay teen can face, athlete or not. She portrays the bullying at the hands of friends and teammates incredibly well, and the varied behaviours – everything from religious conservatism to harassment to physical brutality to love and support – ring authentic and true.
All the teens are complex, relatable, and fantastically developed characters. The friendships and rivalries and likes and dislikes and bitchy behavior and unquestioning affection brought me straight back to the halls of my high school. It seems that not much changes. Tristan’s speech to the hockey team was completely believable and showed so much pride and support for his brother.
The execution. The story seems forced in places, as if trying too hard to make a point.
The parents. And I don’t mean they’re bad because they are homophobic and racist (that’s just obvious). They are flat, one-dimensional, overly-exaggerated characters of hockey parents, controlling everything the boys did, not wanting anyone to know about the suicide attempts, thinking only of how such attempts could affect Robbie’s future, never that he might not have one if he succeeded.
It’s 2016, and these boys are 18 years old. The computer stuff made no sense at all. The chat rooms and messaging seemed out of date. My kids are way younger, and know all about internet safety and not chatting with strangers and DEFINITELY not meeting anyone in person that you have met online. This is not new information. Also, for parents who control EVERYTHING, this is where they decide to respect privacy and not interfere?
I don’t want to spoil it, so will just say that I know Robbie is lonely, and I know we all do stupid things when we are in pain, but the big scene near the end of the story just does not make sense. His behaviour, given his lifelong dream, is not in character at all.
Add the twin telepathy to that. We’ve all heard the stories how twins miles apart can feel when something is wrong with the other, and I have no trouble believing that. But I don’t think that after 18 years of ignoring each other, two people who have never shared so much as a twinge of recognition all of a sudden start having conversations with each other in their heads. I assume Siegert is trying to show how close they became once they started to really know each other, but to me it made believable characters less so.
I think Siegert has an incredible idea in this story. So with all the negative, I still say “READ THIS.” The good messages in it outweigh the bad aspects, and they are important and timely and can start a much needed conversation.
The organization You Can Play, support for gay athletes, is referenced and promoted at the end.
Jerkbait was published May 10th, 2016 by Jolly Fish Press.