Title: After School Activities
Author: Dirk Hunter
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages/Word Count: 200 Pages
At a Glance: A very entertaining read from a new author that covers a lot of different coming-of-age topics, with both humor and pathos.
Reviewed By: Sadonna
Blurb: Two guys insist on complicating Dylan O’Connor’s life: one, his bully, and the other, his best friend.
It started out simple enough. Step one, outsmart Adam with wit and flair, goad him into doing something stupid, and land him in detention. Step two, play video games with Kai all night and laugh about it. Go to bed. Repeat tomorrow. Only, Adam and Kai are about to change the rules on him.
First, Adam’s bullying turns suddenly violent, leaving Dylan to wonder if his bully really needs a friend. Then, Kai makes an unexpected move Dylan has only imagined in his most secret fantasies. Only he’d never dreamed it might come at a price.
While Adam opens up, coming closer to revealing a secret he’s kept his entire life, Kai pulls away even as they get closer than ever.
With everything he thought he understood turned upside down, Dylan must decide what he really wants from the men in his life—before inaction loses him the very relationships he’s always relied on.
No pressure, Dylan. You got this. It’s just love. How hard could it be?
Review: I love it when I find a new-to-me author whose book I really enjoyed reading. This is one of those times. Dirk Hunter is one of those authors, and I only see one title available, but I’m hoping we can look forward to more stories.
In some ways, this story reminds of other coming-of-age stories, but there are some different turns and twists on the traditional tropes that kept my interest from the beginning. That being said, what really made the book for me was the voice of the protagonist, Dylan O’Connor. This is a smart, funny kid who is surprisingly quite self-possessed for a seventeen-year-old. He’s definitely “out” at his high school and has been the target of bullies for years – especially one Adam Anderson, quintessential jock. The story opens to what is apparently a common occurrence of these two in the Principal’s office, explaining their latest run-in – in this case, over the harassment of a new freshman who hasn’t yet learned how to stay out of the way of the roving jock packs. Dylan comes to the rescue, and in a no good deed goes unpunished scenario, finds himself in hot water again.
It turns out that Dylan and Adam have a long history of sparring, and Dylan sort of revels in their interaction at this point. It’s one of the high points of his days, and he misses it when things change. In addition to his run-ins with Adam, Dylan’s best friends, Malachi (Kai) and Mel, are his sounding boards and pals. They are a bit like the three musketeers. Kai is the first person Dylan came out to, and they have always been very close. They spend lots of time together, and then things begin to change.
Dylan and Adam’s latest confrontation takes on a physical element, and Dylan suspects that something is very wrong because this is a complete departure from their usual contact. When Adam takes Dylan up on his offer to talk, he reveals some startling surprises, and Dylan begins to understand that there is a lot more to Adam than meets the eye. Then, when things aren’t weird enough, Kai takes their relationship to a completely different and very surprising place that not only throws Dylan for a loop but threatens the tentative friendship he is building with Adam.
In addition to the main characters of Dylan, Adam, and Kai, there are some really amazing supporting characters. Dylan’s parents, especially, are a hoot! I LOVE the O’Connors. They are funny and supportive, and they provide a lot of comic relief. Among the other high school characters, Charlotte and Mel and Tiffany provide some grounding for the boys and the story. I’m not sure teenage girls really behave this way – but then again, I’m not sure I was ever really a teenage girl, and I certainly haven’t been one for quite some time 😉
I don’t want to reveal too much about the plot, because I think it’s a lot more fun to discover the winding paths and revelations while reading the story. In some ways, this books reminds me a bit of John Goode’s Tales of Foster High series, but with a lot more humor and a lot less angst. It also is not YA, and there is quite a bit of sex in this story. Dylan really comes across as a very mature and pretty thoughtful guy. This never bothers me because I was old by the time I was eleven, and I think that a lot of kids are mature way beyond their years, but if that bothers you, you may have issues with this portrayal. He’s had a pretty good life and he knows it. I felt like he was realistically portrayed as having a healthy amount of gratitude and understanding of his luck, particularly as he begins to understand what some of his peers have been through.
I recommend this book for anyone who likes a coming-of-age story with smart funny characters who have to deal with the curveballs life throws at them. The writing style and voice of Dylan is highly entertaining and kept me engaged, wanting to know what was going to happen next. I’m not sure what this author is working on now, but I would definitely be interested to see where he will take us next.
You can buy After School Activities here: