By The Creek, Geoff Laughton
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Genre: Y.A, LGBT (G), Contemporary
Length: 173 Pages
Reviewer: Mr. Austro-Hungarian
“School is only going to be a few hundred miles away. We’ve bridged two worlds – together we can do anything.”
This was a truly unique piece of young adult writing, and I do not mean that in a negative way. Not even in the slightest. This book – amongst a sea of gay Young Adult fiction that follow the formula: Gay-nerd-meets-seemingly-straight-jock-and-nerd-doesn’t-like-himself-because-he’s-a-nerd-but-jock-loves-him-because-he’s-beautiful – provides a refreshing and different take on the genre.
In the story, we meet David. He’s just finished the last day of tenth grade; instead of welcoming home he says goodbye to it, as his mother has been transferred to a different branch within her workplace. Much to David’s chagrin – they are forced to move closer to her work. To add insult to injury, it is a house settled in a country part of town, opposite to an Amish community – with this information, the logical conclusion that David’s adolescent head comes to is that he will be living without a car and cable whilst living opposite a community that looks like a living episode of Little House On The Prairie. When they arrive, David’s chagrin sinks in further; this situation couldn’t get more platitudinous, even if he tried.
(N.B: I will go to the ends of the Earth to use that GIF – up until the day I die.)
But luckily for David, the heat of summer and the lack of stimulation causes him to discover a swimming hole opposite his house, which is where we meet an Amish boy by the name Benjamin. Benjamin is, naturally, very stiff and almost scared to be within the presence of an “English”, to which David takes offence and strides away. But he can’t help but think about this boy. What is he like? What would he be swimming in? Would he swim naked?
But a week later, on another hot day, David fancies going by the swimming hole again and is rendered unconscious when he slips and hits his head on a rock. Benjamin saves him, and after a good talk, a forbidden friendship quickly develops. But is that all that is forbidden to the tale of the English kid and the Amish boy?
This novel had it all – teenagers who struggle to find their place in life, a love interest between the most unusual people in the most unusual circumstances, serendipitous dialogue that allows for said romance to occur, a conflict that needs to be resolved after a period of inner turmoil and an ending that will warm your heart.
But what made By the Creek so unique were two things:
– The way the author handled every cliché and formula in the industry, and;
– The execution of the unique ideas.
I love anything unique, but when a piece of fiction stands out in this way, it has to be done correctly. In that way, it is quite analogous to whenever a tall gymnast steps up to the podium; every movement of theirs tends to stand out.
…sometimes for better:
…or sometimes for worse:
And in keeping with that same comparison, By the Creek is to Young Adult MM as the lovely Svetlana Khorkina is to Artistic Gymnastics – completely innovative, exciting and different, no matter what way you look at them – they always deliver a beautiful job.
Speaking of beautiful, that is exactly the word to describe the love that was forged between David and Benjamin. When I said that it had teenagers struggling to find their place, these two young men were the epitome of this. Benjamin had always been ashamed of what he felt, as being Amish and gay is something that never happens; David could never find the courage to come out to anyone, as he was also secretly ashamed of who he was. But they both found the strength to become who they wanted to be through each other. David realised that he had an accepting group of friends and family; Benjamin found that he had his own opinion, not just the one of the collective Amish society.
But another thing I liked about this book was that it didn’t demonise the Amish community like I thought it might have; it certainly looked at aspects of the community that seem very archaic, but it didn’t necessarily portray this as a bad thing. In actual fact, David basically alluded to the fact that the freedom of choice with regards to ‘how we live is what makes us human’, and I thought that was a very good moral to inject within this book.
I also had a really, really soft spot for Benjamin. Benny – as David refers to him – is, quite frankly, adorable – very sweet and innocent. He was portrayed perfectly, in my opinion. Now, I don’t confess to being an expert, or even confess upon having an insight into the minds of the community, but when Ben said this –
‘“Are these your gods?” Benjamin asked, pointing at the posters on the walls.’
– I thought that this would be so true, if one did not know better. It made me laugh and melted my heart simultaneously. But what I loved most about his character – and in actual fact, all the characters in this book – was that they all had their own unique voice and had their own way of expressing their opinions. Benjamin was very reserved-but-clever kid that only thought what the Amish collective told him to think, but when he relaxed, he gained an inquisitive intelligence. This also didn’t seem unrealistic. He didn’t suddenly acquire a wealth of knowledge, charisma and vocabulary that seemed jarring or out of the ordinary – he was just being himself, but coming out of his shell.
The pacing of the book was accurately judged. They didn’t become friends straight away. They were wary. They only had limited contact. It progressed slowly but surely. And in particular, there was innocence to their relationship that felt real:
‘“I love you too, Davey, and I want you to be my boyfriend forever.” Benjamin kissed him. “I did say that right, didn’t I?”’
These were all good things to me. It would have only felt a bit long-winded and/or boring if the author had not made the chapters frequently skip ahead quite far in time.
And this was the common element in the execution of this story – if the author had done ‘this’, it would have fallen flat; if the author had done ‘this’ – etcetera, etcetera. But this didn’t happen very often –
– Having said that, I did have one gripe with this story, and I didn’t process that I had this gripe until well after I had finished reading the book:
I almost wish the author had written the story from Benjamin’s point of view.
Why do I wish this? Purely because I sometimes think – as much as David’s deadpan-but-yet-slightly-satirical narration on what moving to the country is like and falling in love with someone from another world was great – that Benjamin had a better story to tell.
But I also think that the narration of Benjamin and his story would have been far more inherently risky, purely because we – as the “English” – aren’t privy to the absolute point of view that is living an Amish lifestyle. Can it be researched? Of course. But whilst I think it could have made this book slightly more spectacular, it could have also made this book slightly less accessible.
Besides, this gripe doesn’t so much detract from the story; it just is food for thought, more than anything.
All in all, By the Creek was a great read; it was a wonderfully unique idea that was executed very well, and such a wonderful addition to the Young Adult genre deserves five stars.
This book was supplied by Harmony Ink in return for an honest review.