Title: Caged Jaye
Author: Lynn Kelling
Publisher: Forbidden Fiction Publishing
Pages/Word Count: 176 Pages
At a Glance: One thing’s for sure—this book forced me not to take it at face value, and that’s always something I will cheer for.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Prequel to Arctic Absolution.
It’s Jaye Larson’s nineteenth birthday, and all he wants is to spend time with his boyfriend and his mother—the people he loves most and who make life worth living. But, faced by his mother’s demons, the imperfections of his relationship with boyfriend, Kris, and dangerous, homophobic strangers, one by one, all of Jaye’s dreams are soon derailed. Plunging into a waking nightmare, shortly after going to bed alone, he wakes in an alley, pinned down by two men with slow, bloody rape and murder in mind. It’s just the start of Jaye’s fight for his life, and his sanity, as time and time again, he’s forced to make impossible choices and survive, no matter what it costs.
Review: Nineteen-year-old Jaye Larson’s life has been anything but easy. He left his drug addicted mother behind to start a life with his boyfriend, Kris, and it was shaping up to be a good life too. Until a random encounter with a homophobic stranger one day devolved into a nightmare of rape and torture that ended with Jaye broken, bloodied, near death, abandoned, and, to rub just a little more insult in his injuries, incarcerated for what amounts to him daring to fight back. Though the letter of the law saw it otherwise.
I’m going to give it to you point-blank right now—I didn’t hate this book, not in the least, but I did despise every single thing that happens to Jaye in it. Caged Jaye is graphic in its description of each and every physical and psychological violation Jaye endures from the night he was brutalized, onward. Once imprisoned, the boy does what he needs to do to survive, and most of what that includes is degrading and deplorable under normal circumstances, aligning himself with a ruthless man who, even though he can at times show his own version of kindness, still uses Jaye in some despicable ways. But prison is the furthest you can get from normal circumstances—especially for a pretty boy like Jaye—so he does what he needs to do to come out on the other side of his two-year sentence alive. Scarred…but alive. Even going by a different name in order to separate himself from his Self.
Second confession: since this book was labeled a prequel, I thought that meant I could read it before Arctic Absolution, Jaye’s story of life after prison. But I was so wrong about that that wrong isn’t even a strong enough word to describe how wrong I was, and here’s why. Without context, Jaye’s story reads like nothing more than one non-con/dub-con scene after another. Make no mistake, though; those scenes are not written to be sexy or titillating. There’s nothing at all erotic about them, and as I was reading Jaye’s story—again, without the benefit of context—I found myself wondering what the point was of the author revealing all the trauma and brutality that happens to this kid, chapter after chapter. The answer to that doesn’t become clear until you see Jaye in Arctic Absolution. That’s where you understand the strength that gets him through the nightmares and post traumatic episodes and the voices in his head that haunt and debase him; the strength that allows him to become a source of comfort for Dixon Rowe.
The juxtaposition of Jaye being imprisoned both literally and figuratively is a theme that runs throughout this story, and it’s one of the things that kept me turning its pages—apart from me wanting to see him make it out alive, of course. Jaye isn’t just a prisoner of the justice system, he’s a prisoner of circumstances in his own life. He has no control over what happens to him, how it happens, when it happens, or why—it’s like his life has two settings, survival and annihilation, and neither leave much room for hope. Jaye’s moral compass, as a result, ends up skewing so far from center that it would be easy to judge him for every single transgression he commits in the name of his survival. He becomes somewhat of a feral human in response to his environment, but that’s not all Jaye is. He’s fighting monsters and might have become one himself for a while, but necessity is the mother of intention in this novel–and it’s Jaye’s intent to live. So, to see him as a victim I also had to see him as the hero of his own continued existence—everything he does, he does in the name of living, and for him to have been able to hold on to that shred of light in the darkness of those years speaks to his courage. Jaye’s as much a prisoner of circumstance as he is the bars that cage him, and while Lynn Kelling pulls no punches in her portrayal of the brutality that surrounds him on a daily basis, there’s also a good deal of evidence that it’s her love of the character that prompted the telling of his story.
I had to sit and stew about my feelings about this book for a long while. I won’t lie, my initial reaction to it was fairly distasteful—it’s a dark and depressing story, and to say I liked it would be inaccurate at best. More to the point, I was intrigued by it, heartbroken by it, angered by it, sometimes even repulsed by it, but in the end, I was drawn to it too, in spite of–or, perhaps because of–the fact that after everything that happened to him, Jaye still wanted to live, and there’s no doubt that once I read Arctic Absolution, the more I understood the need to give Jaye a voice and some context to his relationship and life with Dixon. If there’s ever been a character who deserves happiness, it’s Jaye Larson. Every single thing about him, and that happened to him, was a kick to the emotional gut.
Caged Jaye will most definitely not be everyone’s cuppa; I can say that with absolute certainty. I can’t stress enough that there’s nothing romantic or gentle about this story, but it does make the life Jaye builds with Dixon in the end a whole lot sweeter.
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