“The Universe doesn’t like secrets. It conspires to reveal the truth, to lead you to it.” – Lisa Unger
Author: M.B. Mulhall
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Pages/Word Count: 230 Pages
Rating: 5 Stars
Blurb: Secrets. Their weight can be crushing, but their release can change everything—and not necessarily for the better. Ian is no stranger to secrets. Being a gay teen in a backwater southern town, Ian must keep his orientation under wraps, especially since he spends a lot of time with his hands all over members of the same sex, pinning their sweaty, hard bodies to the wrestling mat.
When he’s trying not to stare at teammates in the locker room, he’s busy hiding another secret—that he starves himself so he doesn’t get bumped to the next weight class.
Enter Julian Yang, an Adonis with mesmerizing looks and punk rocker style. Befriending the flirtatious artist not only raises suspicion among his classmates, but leaves Ian terrified he’ll give in to the desires he’s fought to ignore.
As secrets come to light, Ian’s world crumbles. Disowned, defriended, and deserted by nearly everyone, Ian’s one-way ticket out of town is revoked, leaving him trapped in a world he hates—and one that hates him back.
Review: I haven’t had a lot of good experiences with YA titles recently. That Heavyweight wasn’t about an abusive situation made it stand out for me as something different. Plus, a friend has been posting some very sexy photos of wrestlers on Facebook! I have a close friend whose son wrestled for seven years in school. I really tried to not notice his body, I really did, until he was 18. But man, I can’t imagine what it would have been like for a gay teenage boy to be rolling around with him all sweaty. Because his body was, and still is, a work of art. A natural athlete who also works out a lot, blonde hair and blue eyes. Deep dimples when he smiles.
I write all that, and reveal my inner pervert, to say that I had some very vivid mind pictures while reading Heavyweight. It is well written as a YA novel. It is suitable for a YA audience, which is something hard to find lately. Sex is alluded to, but for the most part happens off page or is vaguely described. I think M.B. Mulhall did a really great job getting into the mind of a teenager living in a small, intolerant southern town.
Ian is the best wrestler in his high school. He hopes to get a scholarship for college to get him out of his hometown and away from his alcoholic father and doormat mother. Ian is also gay. He hasn’t told anyone because he knows how narrow minded and hate-filled the people are in his town.
One of the tricks to being a great wrestler is to stay at just the right weight. You want to be right at the top of your weight class, but not over it. Then you wrestle against opponents who are either smaller or the same weight as yourself. Ian has discovered that the only way he can make weight with all the food his mother and best friend try to feed him, is to binge and purge. Ian is anorexic and bulimic. When not supervised, he may go days without eating, but will continue his work outs. He hates himself for doing it, then feels guilty when he eats, so the cycle continues. My daughter is anorexic and bulimic. I felt Ian’s pain while he struggled with his illness. He feels pulled and pushed and fed and told not to eat, everywhere he turned. But he needs to be the best or he’ll never get out of this town.
Enter Julian Yang. A new student who is flirtatious and artsy and just different. All the things a closed-minded small town hates. Ian becomes friends with Jules and finds they have more in common than anyone knows. Ian is drawn to Jules and equally afraid of him. He is afraid he’ll give in to the desire he feels for Jules. He’s afraid that by just being friends with Jules, people will assume he’s gay. In a sport like wrestling, gay boys need not apply. Ian has kept his hormones in check while participating in his sport, but if his sexuality is discovered, no one will want to wrestle him. Ian is also afraid that if he lets Jules get too close, his eating disorder will be discovered.
In a perfect storm of circumstance, Ian’s secrets escape. His family, best friend, teammates, classmates, even strangers all hate him now. He sees no way out of the hell that is his life. Jules, instead of being someone to fear, becomes a solace to Ian. His one and only soft place to fall.
M.B. Mulhall vividly portrays Ian’s fears and his dismay at the death of his dreams. Through the entire book, ups, downs and in-betweens, both Ian’s and Jules’s feelings were palpable. She captures the hopes and disappointments Jules feels when Ian pushes him away or pulls him close. The descriptive words used to make us feel what Ian felt were just perfectly chosen. I felt the pressure he was under and the guilt and shame over the lengths to which he went in order to meet the hopes that the entire team put on his shoulders.
The gentle way Jules and his sister and Aunt approached Ian, like one would an abused puppy; the surprise at his realization that he deserved their care and that there really were people who would love him, Ian, not Ian the perfect son, not Ian the undefeated wrestler, not Ian the straight A student and perfect son, not Ian the heterosexual, just Ian; my heart just broke into tiny little pieces as a mother seeing how Ian felt. Ms. Mulhall was able to bring those feelings to life for me. Boy, did I cry.
The M/M fiction market has grown so much in the last five or so years. Stories are told and retold. I don’t mean to insult writers, I admire them immensely, but there is nothing new under the sun, said someone, somewhere. Heavyweight felt original and fresh to me. It felt like a story that no one had told before. I really loved it and I look forward to more M/M from this author. I’m going to the mat to recommend this book.