J.P. Barnaby’s Aaron is the story of a boy, Aaron Downing, who, at the age of sixteen, suffered through a crime so horrific that it left behind untold scars, both on his body and in his mind. Lying on the cold and unforgiving floor of a filthy garage, Aaron became lost forever to the boy that was and was reborn a mere shadow of the son, the brother, the someone with so much potential and promise in his future. Now, at eighteen, he is little more than a chimera of a living, breathing human being. He is a boy who merely takes up space in a world in which he believes he no longer belongs, lost in the haze of the drugs the doctors, who don’t know what to do for him, prescribe to try and keep him tethered to some semblance of reason in a life that he can’t possibly make sense of, suffering from the untold burden of both survivor’s guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder. Aaron’s life is the very personification of a living hell.
Spencer Thomas lives under a burden of a wholly different sort, but when one is suffering, the degrees by which that suffering is measured become negligible. Pain is pain, and anguish is not a competition, but it can be a source of communion, especially when there is empathy there, as well as the ability to communicate in a common language. Spencer is burdened by the mistaken beliefs of the uninformed that his deafness also means he’s developmentally challenged, which couldn’t be further from the truth. No, the only limitation his deafness has placed upon him is the inability for people to see beyond his handicap to the kind and beautiful boy who is so much more than his disability.
Aaron is the story of two young men, one who doesn’t want to be touched or seen, and one who wants nothing more than to be touched and seen for more than his inability to hear. It is the story of how their lives intersect, through fate or fortune—the reason why doesn’t really matter in the end. What matters is that their having met begins a cautious and courageous journey toward healing and perhaps even a little hope, not only for them, but for Spencer’s father as well, as Aaron’s afflictions become the roadmap to his own redemption.
This is the story of a family’s struggle to hold itself together with a fingertips’ grasp on what they’re trying to define as their new normal. It’s a story, for a mother and father, of knowing when to hold on and when it’s time to let go, of discovering the strength to encourage a damaged son to spread his new wings and to fly again, even if it means flying into the face of all his fears.
Pain is reading a book in which the author makes her characters suffer such unimaginable horrors that it spoke to me on a visceral level. As I read Aaron’s story, I vacillated between wanting to crawl into my own skin to save myself from every parents’ worst nightmare of a crime committed against their child, and wanting to crawl into the pages of the book and try my damndest to make this boy all better. Or if not better, at least to show him that though there’s surely evil in this world, it can’t possibly persevere where there’s also love and kindness.
Fortunately, J.P. Barnaby did that for me.
J.P. Barnaby is a GayRomLit participating author. You can find her blog HERE.