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I've gotta tell you...I've lived in a lot of places and had some...experiences. Growing up, most of my childhood was spent in various parts of the American South: Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, etc. While I have some happy memories, I also know from personal experience what being different is like, and always being the new kid to boot? Let's just say I learned to defend myself with my feet and fists, because even at 7 years of age, being different could and did mean a steel pipe across the shins and several punches to the head by a group of jeering...I hesitate to dignify them with the word people, but, oh well. It was not an isolated experience with community violence either.
I also grew up watching a beloved aunt struggle emotionally, as she first tried to conform to heterosexual "norms" and even married a man (a Marine, no less) for a short, very doomed while. To say that living in a small Southern community and having a conservative, religious extended family made it even harder for her would be admitting to a truth. Ultimately, she sought ways to numb her pain...first through alcohol and then via drugs. She did end up finding the love of her life, but sadly, not before much of her mind and body were destroyed. Loving her dearly, and spending many of my summer holidays with her and one of her longer term lovers (the view of the family was, she may be going to Hell, but she's free childcare and makes sure the kids are clean, fed, and put to bed and lives well away so nobody's in our hair), I observed her and her live in lover up close. When not drinking or busy getting high, they seemed like every other couple I knew, except they were two women and not going on and on about God (well, not unless she was drunk or high anyway). It made a deep impression on me, one that helped lead me to be the person I am today. I also have a son who happens to be gay, and I know what kind of life I want him to experience, one of filled with acceptance, happiness, and love. Why am I mentioning these seemingly random things? Well, the book starts in a small, close-knit, religiously conservative community in Alabama and features two young men who grow up side by side and come of age together. Oh yeah...they happen to also be gay.
Little Boy Lost: Enlightened introduces us to Brian McAllister and Jamie Mayfield. They are in their senior year of high school and about to graduate and go on to university. They've been best friends for quite some time, but things have moved on since childhood- Brian and Jamie are in love with each other and that's something that in their rural Alabama town is a definite no-no. In fact, Jamie's parents are very religious. They not only give their faith lip service, but attend church every Sunday and attend church functions without fail. Brian and Jamie know they won't be accepted, so they huddle together in that proverbial closet. They pretend to be straight best friends and make sure to do the straight guys "thing", and no one is none the wiser.
It's not an easy thing to do. Firstly, they love each other deeply. When you love someone that much, you want it all. And so they use the best friends thing to cover up their time spent together, including sleep overs at Jamie's where they covertly kiss and cuddle, and do horny teen-aged stuff. Sleeping over on Saturdays also means going to church with the Mayfields and this is where Brian and Jamie really come face to face with the reality of what being gay in their community means. One Sunday, the preacher does a special sermon on homosexuality. It's a sermon that is to have a lasting impact on their lives, as events move forward. Hidden secrets have a way of coming out, and when they do, the backlash can be exceptionally harsh and violent both physically and emotionally. Brian is left finding out just how much his long term foster family truly has loved him, who his and Jamie's real friends are, and that love is something he finds worth fighting for.
Author J.P. Barnaby has precisely captured the flavour of small town Deep South America. Communities are tight knit and everyone tries to look out for each other. Social activities often revolve around school and church. Now, schools and churches run on conformity, and this can be the crux of a problem when the conformity is challenged. I can recall a period when my mother and I had to live with my grandmother, and yes, it was in a rather small town in the Deep South. There was rather a big to do about an older girl- she had the audacity to be a tomboy and not in the "acceptable" way either. You see, it was OK to be in 4-H. It was OK to maybe wear jeans if you were working in the yard or garden or horseback riding or something. But to refuse to wear a dress to school, to church, or to town, now, that was "wrong". That made you unwomanly apparently, and that meant you either were going to be (oh horror) a feminist...or even "worse"...a lesbian! So, steps were taken by the ladies of the community, by her teacher, and her parents. I don't think those steps worked, because a scant month later, she was sent away to stay with an aunt or something who lived in an even more rural area, presumably to remove whatever was "tempting" the young lady to such "extreme" nonconformity.
Now, that was just from being a tomboy when she was over the age of 12. My aunt grew up in that town, and she WAS a lesbian. She NEVER came to visit. In fact, the ONLY time I ever heard her mentioned was the night before Mama disappeared, and that was during an argument Mama was initially was having with Granny over me (turned out Granny had her admitted to a "clinic" for "mental problems". She came back a different person). I was only a child, but I knew two things:
1.My aunt was "funny" (this is how they referred to her being gay, and I often heard it used to describe gays I general)
2. Being "funny" in a place like this was no laughing matter and quite possibly dangerous. Also, disagreeing with the status quo put you in the same dangerous position as the "funny" people. And that could make you vanish and come back...wrong.
Knowing these things viscerally meant that as I read Jamie and Brian's story, I felt a rather uncomfortable familiarity that held more than a small amount of dread. Theirs is a beautiful coming of age story, in the sort of small town that people find charming and idyllic, often wishing they could live there, yet underneath the smiling charms of this town is a very black undercurrent. In the past, it probably had a blatantly racist face. It quite possibly still has traces of that too, and women probably have more "traditional" roles (to put it politely). But homophobia, now that's something the polite folks will deny- they aren't haters. They love you, just not your supposed sin. And they want to fix you. And I'm going to warn you, that particular beast does indeed raise its head, so be prepared to weep right alongside these lovely boys as their lives are literally torn apart.
It's not the end of the world, however, as there are five more books in the series that take us along with Jamie and Brian as they navigate their way through hurt and hope. I found myself buying and downloading the next book one after the other until the end of book 5, where I came up short as the final instalment was not yet out. That's now been remedied (I should thank J.P. Barnaby here herself for that), and it was well worth the wait. The entire series was riveting enough that beginning the journey with these boys with this volume was well worth the time and money spent.
From watching Brian and Jamie try to come to grips with their burgeoning sexuality, to how their families and friends struggled to understand (despite some truly appalling reactions), Little Boy Lost: Enlightened is that rare thing- it's a true mirror of very real things that happen to youths and families, showing every flaw, every naked emotion, and inner thought. It does so without sensationalising, without being overblown drama, giving us emphathetic characters that will draw in nearly every reader. You don't have to be gay or know someone who is to appreciate this book. But once you read it, you will come to understand just what all the fuss is about as it shines the light in those dark corners.
This is available both in print and as an ebook in Kindle and epub formats. While it is available from Amazon, if buying one of the ebook versions, I personally recommend purchasing via the All Romance Books site, as for every 10 books you buy, you get a free one, and they do all genres of romantic fiction, not just LGBT.