Ashers Fault, Elizabeth Wheeler
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Genre: YA, LGBT (G)
Length: 264 pages
“I might as well have been blind for the first fourteen years of my life. The evidence was there – all of it – but I didn’t see a thing.”
Asher reflects on his life noticing how in the end, knowing the truth, it all makes sense.
At the beginning of the novel Asher is 14 with a younger brother, Travis, and divorced parents. He hasn’t really seen his father, other than in passing, since he left the family a year previously. Asher gets through this by focusing his attention on a classic camera given to him by his aunt and soon photography is his hobby and passion.
Both Asher and his mother are strongly religious, belonging to the local Methodist church. It is at church, in the summer before his sophomore year, that Asher meets Garrett. Garrett is new to town, quickly becomes friendly with Asher and invites him to go to the pool. Asher’s mother insists that Travis goes to the pool with him and reluctantly Asher agrees to take him. Also at the pool is Levi, Asher’s best friend.
In order to spend more time with Asher, Garrett gives Travis $5 to go get ice cream. Garrett and Asher then start talking and playing more with a game of tag progressing into the bathrooms. It is here that these two share a kiss, Asher’s first, broken apart by Levi’s calls for Asher to get outside quickly. Travis had been playing on the diving board, hit his head and drowned.
Asher’s Fault then deals with the guilt and confusion now surrounding Asher’s life as he tries to comprehend these new feelings and the loss of his brother.
The Parts I Liked
The majority of Asher’s Fault focuses on the emotion of guilt and how this can plague anyone’s mind, especially that of a 14 year old boy. The book examines how, despite Asher feeling entirely responsible for the death, an event like this injects a sense of guilt into all those who had a relationship with Travis.
As the story progresses Asher finds how most other people, including his parents and friends, all feel equally responsible for the death of Travis. Asher also discovers how quickly these emotions turn into hostility, damaging relationships and holding people back from coming to acceptance about the death.
I really enjoyed how guilt was treated in this book and was intrigued by the effects it had on the cast of characters. It took until the end of the book and the discovery of the final pieces of the puzzle to truly appreciate how the author interwove each persons guilt into their behaviours and actions throughout the story. Levi in particular is one character for whom you will not know the truth until the close, but readers should take note of his actions because he is a perfect example of how well guilt was used in Asher’s Fault.
Pastor Cole – “We’re all guilty, Asher. Every one of us. What matters is that God knows our guilt and loves us anyway.”
Use of Christian Character’s
I have not read many books in this genre which incorporate Christian characters in such a positive light. More traditionally in this literature if someone is religious they are antagonists; it was refreshing to find an protagonist who truly is devout. Asher goes to church not because he is forced to, but because he believes it is the right thing to do.
The book also partially addresses the prejudices arising between religion and homosexuality, the prejudices come mostly from Asher himself. He doesn’t believe that his religion and, what he is starting to discover is, his sexuality are compatible. However Garrett, who regularly goes to church without complaint like Asher, is openly gay, not feeling the same level of conflict within himself.
A key message I would like to take away from Asher’s Fault is that religion and homosexuality do not have to be mortal enemies. Another is that quite often in communities the church is a place where many can go seeking guidance and help in stressful times, with many being full of people who accept you for who you are.
I Wanted to Love This But Couldn’t (A.K.A. The Unfortunate, Negative Part of the Review)
Asher’s Fault, whilst having an good base story of a teenage boy recovering from the guilt and pain resulting from his brothers death, feels incomplete with many storylines and themes that needed resolution not receiving it. The major culprits were Asher’s relationship with his parents and the issue of his sexuality.
Both Asher’s mother and father have been lying to him for years about Travis, their divorce and many other factors of life that have been plaguing him for years. There is no true resolution between these three.
At the conclusion of the book with Asher finally knowing the truth about his mother, whom he treated like a saint at times, his opinion of her completely changes. Normally in the mind of a 14 year old boy I would expect the anger from being deceived coming to the surface very easily. This anger does not come to the surface by the end of the book despite sitting there.
I do not expect the anger to completely destroy the relationship between Asher and his mother, but for the story thread to be concluded there needed to be a confrontation between the two to address the ways in which she had manipulated and deceived Asher during the divorce and aftermath of Travis’ death. In return I strongly desired a mixed development to occur in Asher’s relationship with his father. Mixed in the sense that he should be feeling anger towards his father for the deception as well, but in addition he should see how his father was not the exceptionally guilty party in the breakup of the marriage, as he had been led to believe.
Neither of these crucial relationships were finalised by the end of the book and my strong belief is that for Asher’s Fault to be considered a complete book these needed to be addressed.
The issue of Asher’s sexuality was not properly addressed or closed off in the book either. During his first kiss with Garrett, Asher backs away sadly saying, “I’m not gay. I can’t be gay.” Asher’s religious beliefs hold him back from admitting his sexuality to himself and Garrett in this scene and continuously through this rest of the book. In every meeting with Garrett we can see how Asher is attracted to him and wants to be in a relationship with him, but sadly his beliefs get in the way in the same manner every time. The ultimate feeling produced by this was that each scene with Garrett was basically a repeat of the first (minus the kiss.)
I am annoyed by the lack of progress and conclusion with this issue in Asher’s Fault. With each scene repeating the first there was a perennial question of ‘What was the point of all that?’ every time Asher and Garrett met. If the issue of Asher’s sexuality had not been raised in the book I honestly feel that it would have been better for it.
Asher’s Fault was a book that I wanted to love from the first page. Unfortunately the end of the book and lack of proper conclusion ruined what was otherwise an interesting story. I would like to see more from this author in the future as the basic idea of this story was excellent, however it was poorly let down by the execution.
“It was hard to hate when I knew why she lied.”