The Sacrifices We Make, Sophie Bonaste
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press.
Genre: Y.A, LGBT (G), Contemporary.
Length: 190 pages.
Reviewer: Mr. Austro-Hungarian
Purchase At: Harmony Ink Press (pre-order), amazon.com (coming soon).
“He had to laugh at the irony, though. His bible-thumping, conservative, Christian mother had essentially given him the last piece of information he needed to confirm his status as gay. She told him everything he needed to know about being in love, not knowing she was sending him straight into the arms of another man.“
Adam Jameson is a seventeen-year-old boy, originating from northern Alabama, who is the product of an ultra-conservative religious community. The epitome of this community are his parents – Matthew and Margaret Jameson; Matthew is a strict, aggressive and over-bearing reverend, who would prefer to make his children fear him as a man, rather than love him as a father, and Margaret simply does as Matthew wishes.
“…Some women prefer to be equals to their husband or even dominant over them. Your father and I have found a great peace with me being subservient to him, like stated in the Bible. Someday you will find love and happiness being dominant over your wife. It is God’s way…“
But Adam has always felt like the perennial outsider – he doesn’t share his parent’s views on partner inequality, and he has never completely integrated with his fellow community members; even at the school he attends, which the community members send all of their children to. He loves to draw, but only does so within the confines of his room, lest he be tarred with the effeminate brush by his father.
In essence, Adam gets by and does what is said to do, but he secretly abstains from his religious community’s opinions. He desires to break away from the mentality, and to find his own personal voice. But then, to do so would mean crossing his family and the only life he has ever known, and he wouldn’t ever dream of doing so…
…until his father signs him up to volunteer three days a week at the nearby Glenbrook Homeless Shelter. At first, he notices the dilapidated state the lower part of his city is in, and he is hesitant of his work at the shelter, but Adam soon discovers that he enjoys helping out and that the people there are friendly and inviting. This includes a homeless boy that he happens to run into one day, by the name of Mickey.
“Adam looked up into the bluest eyes he had ever seen. The person he’d run into was a teenage boy who looked to be about the same age as Adam, but this boy was clearly homeless. … His brown hair seemed to be matted and dirty and hung loosely around a gaunt face. But still, there was something about this teen Adam couldn’t take his eye off.“
Adam soon discovers that Mickey, along with the rest of the shelter, are genuine people who care for Adam because of the person that he is, and that superficial conversations and appearances mean nothing to Adam, when all he wants is to feel free, accepted and loved for who he is – not for what the Bible says. Adam begins to feel further disconnected from the community, and when his growing friendship with Mickey suddenly stops being purely platonic, Adam is forced the make the sacrifice that will change his life.
The first thing that struck me when I finished reading this book was the way that the author explained and developed the story was interconnected; everything had a subtle point and moral to it. I felt this was used very cleverly, and made for quite a seamless and poignant story. For example, in a biblical study session with Adam’s family, we learn about that, in John, it is said that a key to salvation is to love our fellow man. When Adam is asked about if there is a price to love, he says:
“There is always a price to love … You have to put a lot of yourself out there to care so much for another, and it is not always going to end in success. But since the key to salvation is love, one has to be willing to make that sacrifice, any sacrifice. And if one can love, then not only will they achieve salvation, but they may gain great satisfaction in life as well.“
This answer satisfies his family, particularly his father. But when he finally opens himself up to the possibility – the only possibility – that he is in love with another man, the very same Bible suddenly dictates that Adam’s homosexuality is to lead to his damnation.
“You have set yourself on the path to damnation, and you must face up to that. You deserve to rot in hell for your perversions.”
And another example was within the sermon of the Good Samaritan, where Adam questioned later that if the Good Samaritan helped the man that lay in the street by leading him to safety, then what is the church doing – or not doing – to end the homelessness within their own town?
“Of course, we help them. We send them money and volunteer, just like you.”
“But do we really help them? There are men, women and children out there with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. And we think that by throwing money and a few hours a week at the problem will make it go away? … If we were really Christians, then we would not rest until our fellow man were not sleeping on the streets!“
This is where, I believe, the author has been very clever about the content of the book. In my opinion, it served a wonderful purpose when it came down to the crux of Adam questioning his sexuality; even though he has been told all his life that homosexuality was among the greatest of sins, the opinions of the church are not his own, and are not always correct, per the aforementioned points. So without these, Adam could never have realistically conquered his repressed homosexuality, because he would have not been inclined to risk everything and go against what he has always known…particularly given the religious community’s affinity with Camp Revelation.
“Camp Revelation was a retraining camp that parents sent their children to if they felt they were not living up to God’s standards. … Many children who went there never came back. Others would come back to the community as adults, but they were never the same.“
The second thing the stuck out to me in this book was the quality of the prose. I felt that the prose was beautiful, but in an understated way. The author also has a habit of turning on the prose towards the end of a chapter, which I am always partial to. When an author ends a chapter with very strong prose, I find that it makes me want to read ahead, because it adds a finished quality that I love.
“The teen he had drawn was the Mickey he wanted to know. Someone who was not tortured by internal or external demons. And maybe, just maybe, if he could help Mickey, then maybe that would help Adam get rids of his own demons.“
“By the end of their talk, Adam felt he had a friend, and he hoped that Mickey felt the same about him. Compared to having no one to talk to, Adam thought, maybe one friend was enough.“
“Adam sat in his bus seat, holding has backpack to his chest, silent tears pouring down his face. About halfway home, the skies opened up and cried with him.“
And when the author finished the chapters with these types of lines, it also helped create an atmosphere that was invaluable when you get to the tense situations at the tail-end of the book.
These bits of prose also shaped the opinions that I had on Adam as well. Adam, in the beginning, was very rigid, formal and slightly judgemental, which you knew was a by-product of the environment that he was raised in. He was also quite withdrawn due to this, because he would rather spend his time being himself rather than playing the superficial diplomat.
But in the last snippets of every chapter, and particularly when he starts volunteering at the Glenbrook Shelter, we often discover a less formal and more caring and compassionate side to Adam that endear him to us. When we are introduced to Mickey, Adam softens even further, and Mickey also learns that there are people out there who have the ability to care about him, rather than about just his situation.
“Sure, I have met the occasional person who has asked about my well-being, but you are the first person to do so because you wanted to. Not because of some twisted sense of pity or guilt. You have tried to learn more about me and seem to want to help me, not because you feel you have to, but because you think it will be better for me.“
In this way, Adam and Mickey very much complimented each other, which gave their relationship an extra-dimension that I do not often see in other young adult titles. Adam did want to help Mickey, and Mickey gave Adam the courage to be his own person, and not let his parents beliefs dictate who he was.
Mickey’s character was also handled well, and so was his situation. Mickey was an interesting character – he did not seem to let his homelessness affect him, and was always looking toward the brighter side of life.
“Dropping the blanket, Mickey ran over and grabbed Adam in a bone-crunching hug. “It is okay, Adam. I promise. It’s not as bad as it seems.”
“How can you say that?”
“Because it’s not. I know that it might seem awful, but it is okay. I have a blanket to sleep on and some semblance of shelter. I’ve never gotten more than the flu from being out in the elements, and with the warmer weather coming, I’ll be okay in that way.”“
He was a good fit for Adam in that regard as well, as Adam has a very pessimistic nature, which – when combined with Mickey’s optimistic views – made for a good counterbalance.
A lot of the staff at the Glenbrook Homeless Shelter were absolutely lovely as well, particularly Rob the cook, and the author made you dislike the Jameson family from the first chapter, which is paramount when you’re dealing with a boy who is disillusioned enough with his life to make sacrifices.
The only criticisms I would have with this book would, firstly, be the editing…
“He did not mean to overhear Sara and Esther, two girls from his class…“
“Adam had taken his books and made his way back up to the front desk, careful to avoid Sarah and Esther…“
…and, secondly, the relatively slow start to the book. The world-building within the first five – ten percent of the book served it well in the latter stages, but it took a little while to truly become attached to the story and the characters.
The Sacrifices We Make, aided by the lovely-yet-understated prose of debut author Sophie Bonaste, is a powerful young adult novel that deserves praise for its originality and execution. I would definitely recommend this novel to someone looking for a serious, yet hopeful novel about two nice boys overcoming their places in life – falling in love in the process. And, dare I say, you will fall in love right along with them.
This book was supplied by Harmony Ink Press in exchange for an honest review.