Title: Pictures of You: Book One
Author: Leta Blake
Length: 328 Pages
Category: Young Adult, Coming of Age
At a Glance: You should definitely check this series out…as soon as you replenish your alcohol and chocolate reserves!
Reviewed By: Jules
Blurb: Growing up gay isn’t easy. Growing up gay in Knoxville, Tennessee is even harder.
Eighteen-year-old Peter Mandel, a private school senior—class of 1991—is passionate about photography. Peter doesn’t have many friends, preferring to shoot pictures from behind the scenes to keep his homosexuality secret.
Enter Adam Algedi, a charming, worldly new guy who doesn’t do labels, but does want to do Peter. Hardly able to believe gorgeous Adam would want geeky, skinny him of all people, Peter’s swept away on a journey of first love and sexual discovery. But as their mutual web of lies spins tighter and tighter, can Peter find the confidence he needs to make the right choices? And will his crush on Daniel, a college acquaintance, open a new path?
Join Peter in the first book of this four-part coming of age series as he struggles to love and be loved, and grow into a gay man worthy of his own respect.
These books contain aspects of: New Adult fiction, ‘90s gay life, small city homosexual experiences, Southern biases, sexual exploration, romance, homophobia, bisexuality, and twisted-up young love. Oh, and a guaranteed happy ending for the main character by the end of Book 4.
Review: This one was rough, guys. I have so many mixed emotions about this book. I honestly don’t know how I feel about it, even hours later. Please don’t misunderstand me… I’m not saying it wasn’t good. It was absolutely good; Leta Blake can write the hell out of a story. But, that being said, it was a tough one to read, and I personally have to be in the proper mindset to read a book like Pictures of You. I can’t stress enough a few points—which the author also highlighted in a recent blog post:
~ This is not a romance. Though there are romantic elements, it doesn’t strictly follow the ‘rules’ of romance.
~ There is a lot of teenage angst and an abundance of painful situations.
~ This is a journey. This point is important. As a reader picking up this first installment, you are undertaking a journey with Peter, and I think should realize that you’re in for the long haul. The author did promise an HEA for Peter by the end of the fourth book; we are definitely not there yet at the end of the first!
This story has been banging around in Leta Blake’s head and heart for fourteen years. Fourteen years, man. That’s a long time; and it shows in the character development—of not only Peter, who she obviously loves, but of Peter’s parents, Adam and his family, and all of the other supporting characters. Everything about the people, the town (Blake obviously knows her early nineties Knoxville), the school, and the time period feels real and intimate. The authenticity is undeniable. I went to private school in the south in the mid-eighties, and Kingsley, the prep school in the book, reminds me very much of those experiences, that culture, and the teachers and students I encountered.
Of all of the characters in the book, our hero, Peter, is my favorite, of course. Peter is a gem; just a really good soul. And, I love that he’s a photographer and that it’s so tied in to who he is. The relationship he strikes up with Adam is fraught with tension and anxiety pretty much from day one—but, Peter has his cameras and pictures and later the school darkroom to escape into when things get to be too much. Peter even uses the framework of his passion for photography to try to understand things going on in his life, such as trying to understand Adam’s feelings and motives for being with Peter.
“I shrugged. I didn’t want words; they made things so complicated and messy. They had all kinds of meanings. Some true, some false. I wanted photos. Why couldn’t Adam give me some photographs showing how he felt? Why couldn’t he hand over a stack of polaroids spelling out his feelings loud and clear? Celluloid that would give me a complete understanding of his feelings and motivations?
But I knew the answer to that anyway.
Even if he did have the capacity, I wouldn’t necessarily be able to interpret the photos any better than I could the words.”
Pictures of you was poignant AF. I read it in basically one day because I simply had to keep reading, to get to the end to see if things wrapped up on any kind of high note. My stomach was in knots through literally the entire book. Aside from a handful—and maybe not even a full handful—of lighter moments, there is no real joy in this book. I’m honestly not trying to be dramatic. Tension, anxiety and heartache were my main emotions/feelings while reading. *sigh*
Does that mean I wouldn’t recommend it? Definitely not. I do recommend it, but with a few caveats. I almost hate saying this first part, because I don’t want it to be interpreted in any way as ‘don’t read this’…but, if I’m being honest, knowing how it was going to make me feel, I wouldn’t have read it without having Peter’s full story arc at my fingertips. I.e., I would have waited until all four books were released. So, maybe the takeaway is, if you’re a big old tender-heart like me, you might want to wait. If you don’t want to wait, that’s fantastic, just keep my third point from above in mind. This is going to be a journey. So gird your loins. Peter is going to need us to be strong!!
I said above that Blake can write, and that is absolutely true. Her Vespertine, co-written with Indra Vaughn, was my top book of 2015, and I have loved so much of her work. She proves her writing chops again with this beautiful coming of age story. You should definitely check this series out…as soon as you replenish your alcohol and chocolate reserves!
You can buy Pictures of You here: