"Bleeding Hearts "
(Reviewed by Judi Clark AUG 22, 2004)
"I Killian Travers Kendall, am gay. I am a homosexual I am attracted to my own sex. The more I said it the easier it became. But I couldn't tell anyone."
For the past three nights I've been reading way past my sleeptime. After assuring Carl that "I'll just finish this chapter and then turn off the light," I don't. I'm lost in such a unique experience that I'm willing to postpone the dream state. You see, through the magic of fiction, I have become a teenage boy who is discovery what it means to be homosexual. Before you think wrongly, this boy is a virgin, it's not about sex, it's about self-discovery. It is only two weeks into the new school year and our narrator, Killian Travers Kendall tells us he's not the same person as he was on the first day of school. He tells us in first person narrative the events that led up to the most important crossroad of his young life, one in which decisions he makes now will affect him his entire life. And it all begins when a new boy, with red-gold hair, green eyes and an elfin face, walks into his drama class. "My name is Seth, Seth Connelly," he says and then he takes a seat next to Killian.
After class, Seth informs Killian that he is gay, which shocks and unnerves Killian -- no else in his high school has ever said such a thing. Almost immediately, Killian runs into his so-called friends, kids he's known and hung out with since childhood out of habit, and they make it known to him that the whole school knows that Seth is gay (because Seth doesn't hide it) and just how uncool it is to even talk to Seth. Still confused, because he thinks Seth is a nice person and can't really understand his friends' reaction, so rather than going straight home he decides to take a walk on the beach. He bumps into Seth and they end up spending the afternoon hanging out together. Killian still doesn't put it together about himself, he just knows that Seth is a decent, albeit lonely guy. Given that Killian has always felt like an outsider himself, he feels for Seth. At dinner that night, he learns that even his father, a powerful District Attorney, warns him to stay away from Seth. But he doesn't.
When Seth challenges Killian to meet his real self and stop hiding behind layers, a chink opens and Killian has to ask himself, "Am I gay?" And he knows the answer and can see how he's always known it. ("I am gay. But I don't want to be gay. My parents would hate me. My friends would hate me. Look how everyone's treated Seth. Oh my God! What would Zack, Jesse and Asher say? Or more important, what would they do. I am gay. Did that mean I had to be kicked out of my church?") Days later, Killian is set to meet Seth in the park. Killian is excited to talk about his self-discovery with someone with experience. How does a gay teenager conduct himself? But Seth is dead when Killian arrives, and the attacker stabs Killian too, but stops at the moment he recognizes Killian, the DA's son (or I assume this is why he stopped). The attacker runs off and Killian ends up in the emergency room.
What a mess. Here's Killian who finally admits to himself that he is homosexual and then the only openly gay high school boy has just been murdered (or so Killian knows in his heart). Certainly neither the police nor his father, the D.A.,are interested in thinking of this as anything but a random mugging. And now that he's home from the hospital it doesn't get any better, at least not at first. One thing leads to another and it is Asher who turns out to have the next surprise. Asher has a crush on Killian. But before Killian has much chance to process this, he's being physically beaten by his dad and booted out of his home. He asks his mother to contact Seth's father, Adam Connelly, who agrees to take him in.
Fortunately, Killian is lucky. Adam is a great father figure giving sound advice so that Killian can make sound decisions -- such as discerning the difference between love and lust and not letting sex destroy a good friendship. But it is still confusing. What does he feel about Asher, his best friend since childhood? How do they behave? Should he pretend he's straight to make it easier? Should he pretend to date a girl? And when he does, and she willingly wants him to, what does he do when he finds he's attracted to her brother? Then there is stuff to fear, like his other two childhood so-called friends who turn out to be the meanest bullies in the school. Anyone reading this will recognize all the typical teenage angst and joy -- but it is filtered through new parameters -- making each decision and each happy moment different than that of the heterosexual childhood.
This is still a murder mystery, but that's easy to forget with everything going on in Killian's life. Though Killian doesn't. He's got yet an additional filter going on -- who in his high school is capable of murder? The fact that the killer recognized him means that it couldn't be a random murder. And, as he finds out from Adam, Seth did receive threat notes. Killian worries that it could even be Asher if he were jealous enough or it could be his bully friends Zack and Jesse. None of these people sound quite right as murderers so he decides to conduct his own interviews with anyone who ever talked to Seth.
Because this is told strictly from Killian's perspective in a most straight forward "Alice in Wonderland style" (from the beginning to the end), this book has a resonance that any other point of view would not accomplish. The events are told in a straightforward this-happened-then-that-happened manner, not the type of writing I typically enjoy, but nevertheless I couldn't stop reading it. I like this kid and I wanted to know what was to happen next.
I am pretty sure that this book would qualify as a safe high school student read -- and in my opinion should be required reading. Any boy who is questioning his sexuality absolutely should read Bleeding Hearts. I think it should also be read by homophobic bullies -- the book would calm any fears they might have because it certainly makes it clear that homosexuality is not a choice (with the way one is treated, who would choose it?) and maybe they'd stop fearing so much and be nice. But if that same child should read it and realize that, well maybe that is why he hasn't felt like he fits in with the rest of the crowd (and must pound in every other kid's head so nobody notices), then maybe he might find that a bit of soul searching is in order. One of the things that is well done in this novel is to show that even though Seth and his father are gay, that it doesn't mean that Seth's youngest brother is gay. But it also makes sense that people with like interests will hang out together, so it is not unnusual for gay men, gay teens for that matter, seek each other out.
Josh is a new reviewer for MostlyFiction.com and he isn't aware that I bought a copy of his book. Naturally I didn't tell him just in case I decided not to review it. During my research while posting the review of FANNY by Edmund White I learned that a great motivation for White to write was how little information there was for a young homosexual boy to learn about his orientation and others like himself. With Edmund White's influence and a couple generations later and books are spilling out of the souls of writers. And that is how I see this novel, in just the same way that once Killian is confronted with his sexually he can no longer hide from himself, this book is a story that must be just as outed. Even better, to find out this is just the first book in the amateur sleuth series featring Killian Kendall. I am very interested in seeing how this character develops.
- Amazon readers rating: from 7 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Bleeding Hearts (December 2003)
- Reap the Whirlwind (May 2003)
- All Lost Things (July 2009)
- The Truth of Yesterday (January 2010)
- A Change of Worlds (July 2010)
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- Official website for Josh Aterovis
- Shooting Stars interview with Josh Aterovis
- Molly's Review of Bleeding Hearts
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About the Author:
Josh Aterovis, a twenty-something artist, author, columnist, and reviewer, was born and bred on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and lives there with his husband, Jon. He is currently working on the fifth Killian Kendall book, and co-authoring a romantic-comedy spin-off, while preparing the third Killian Kendall novel for publication. Bleeding Hearts and Reap the Whirlwind each won the Stonewall Society's Whodunit Award for best mystery