My rating: 4 of 5 stars
CW/TW: bullying, racism, antisemitism, homophobia, hate crime, use of racial and ethnic epithets
Conjoined at the Soul is Book Two of the Chadham High series. I haven’t read Book One (My Life as a Myth) in the series, but I don’t think that’s required. I did not feel lost or that I was missing anything while reading Conjoined at the Soul.
Randy Clark is a sixteen-year-old high school sophomore in late 1979, and is coming to terms with his sexuality. The book opens with Randy admitting to himself that he is gay. As he navigates his new identity during a time when being gay was not accepted, he discovers things and people he once thought he has figured out are not what they seem.
I love books set in the 80’s and this is close enough that I squealed every time a favorite band or fashion from that time was mentioned. Randy comes across as endearingly naïve and clueless. His instincts about others’ motivations are way off the mark and he finds himself in less than favorable positions. He’s so insecure that he wobbles back on forth on his resolve about certain situations and people. He has a lot of growing up to do, especially when it comes to how to be in a relationship and how he should be treated.
The author does a fantastic job of fleshing out characters typical for the late 70’s. Although this is before the AIDS epidemic, the consensus of same sex relationships is that they are distasteful. Not only does the author address homophobia, he also addresses racism and antisemitism. Randy’s father is a racist through and through. He endlessly spouts off demeaning names for non-white and non-Christian people. Randy recognizes his dad’s awful behavior and, in a way, accepts that this is just the way it is.
If it were not for the seriousness of the hate that takes place in this book, Randy’s naivety would be sort of amusing. He can’t seem to understand why certain waitresses will not serve his table of friends that includes an interracial couple. And when they get kicked out of the restaurant by the owner, he is doubly shocked at the owner’s attitude. He is also not aware of how subtle he needs to be when showing affection to another boy at times.
A few things that surprised me about this book were the number of characters that are revealed to be gay and the lackadaisical way Randy shares intimacy with others, whether due to peer pressure or his own misguidance. However, I did appreciate the frank way the author dealt with them. The characters and their conflicts felt real.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go add Book One. And Book Three (Breaths We Take) is eminent, so I’ll have to add that one too. ?
**Copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest and impartial review.**