Sunday, March 20, 2011

Wrestling With Desire by DH Starr

Wrestling with DesireDerek Thompson is a senior, a wrestler, and has a secret. He's gay.

Scott Thayer is a new student who has just moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts from Iowa. On the first day of school Derek and Scott meet and their lives change in an instant.

As Derek and Scott discover the things they have in common, they enter into one of the closest and most loving relationships either of them has ever experienced. When unexpected circumstances threaten their relationship, they both have to make a decision. DO they protect their secret and separate? Or fight for what they want...each other?

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High school -- if offered the choice between eating a bug or reliving any one day of high school, I'd ask how big the bug is. This YA coming of age story illustrates the bittersweet reasons for the dilemma.

Growing up is hard enough, trying to complete senior year as an outsider coming into a stable group, as newcomer Scott has to do, makes it even harder. Fortunately, Derek, quiet, unassuming but still fairly popular, and also gay, is willing to befriend him. They find a lot of shared interests in academics, sports, music, and eventually, each other. We see the journey from Derek's POV, and if he sounds a lot more mature than his years sometimes, he can be both wise and clueless, in true late teen fashion.

Both boys wrestle, a high prestige sport in their school, which provides the backdrop to some of their most important instances of growing up -- they worry about making the team and being accepted, they win, fail, and teach each other new skills. If the technical descriptions of wrestling moves glazed my eyes over, I still think I got the important messages. Wrestling, with it's close physical contact, seems like a hard sport for a gay youth who'd like to stay in the closet, but also a really good life lesson in maintaining focus. I cheered for Scott, Derek, and their team when they won and grieved when they lost, caught up in their success if not the sport.

There's conflict with family, too, and NOT -- thankyouDHStarrletmemakeyoubrowniesfordoingitthisway -- over being gay, but over academics and power within the family, and this more than anything drives the last half of the book. It also renders this YA read more universally appealing, these are conflicts any teen will recognize. One scene did seem to push the YA standard re sex on the page, but we didn't have to hear every groan or feel every stroke to know that these are healthy, horny teenagers who are really into each other.

The line editing and presentation were unfortunately intrusive enough to affect the reading experience. I found myself responding sarcastically to sentences where meaning changed from the intended because of punctuation, or lack of it. Font size changed periodically, sometimes in the middle of a word, so swats to the publisher for not presenting the work more carefully.

The product placement was also intrusive; while the type of car Derek drove says something about him and his family and their values, mentioning "Cymbalta" instead of "antidepressant" or "Best Buy" instead of "electronics store" did not, and there were a lot of these kinds of things. I read books to get away from commercials.

The story is uplifting and positive, but could certainly have benefited from a stronger editorial hand -- some spots ramble or repeat, not truly moving the story forward, and the already mentioned issues took their toll. Still, I'm glad to have read it, and look forward to the other books from this author in my TBR pile. 3.5 marbles

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