Title: Uncovering Ray
Author: Edie Danford
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Pages/Word Count: 309 Pages
At a Glance: I liked this book, even in spite of some rather clichéd secondary characters and what I feel was a detractor to its message about destroying labels and gender stereotypes.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: When the right love uncovers the wrong secrets…
Hey, man–you a chick or a dude? Dealing with the same old boring question is a downer for college drop-out Ray Fayette, especially when it’s asked by the low-tipping, over-privileged students at the Ellery Diner.
When six-foot-five, muscle-bound straight arrow Wyatt Kelly publicly smacks down a fellow frat bother for caveman behavior, Ray’s interest is sparked. Wyatt’s not-so-subtle attraction sparks a few other things too.
But getting to know Wyatt proves dangerous. His sexy smiles and smart questions slide under even Ray’s prickliest defenses. Worse, his academic mentor happens to be Ray’s ex-stepfather, the dictatorial jerk who just kicked Ray out of his house. Again.
Wyatt suggests a housing arrangement that has surprising appeal—there’s space available at his frat house—but he’s unaware just how complicated Ray’s “identity issues” are. Ellery College kicked out Ray for a reason—a reason that could deep-six Wyatt’s academic career and Ray’s newly hopeful heart.
Warning: This Review Contains Spoilers
Review: Let me start by saying on the whole, I try to be ultra-sensitive of spoilers in my reviews, but there really is no way to discuss this book in a way that doesn’t at least give you a good guess about a significant plot point, so read no further if you’re considering reading Uncovering Ray.
Okay, now I feel as if I’ve done due diligence, so let me start by saying I offer huge kudos to Edie Danford for tackling such a thoughtful subject in her freshman contribution to the LGBT genre, especially in writing a gender fluid character the reader is deliberately intended not to know at the beginning of the story as either male or female, or, both male and female, whichever the case may be.
Uncovering Ray works beautifully at the outset. Is Ray a feminine boy or a masculine girl? Though there is a natural curiosity, Danford also makes us not care one way or the other, and this succeeds because we simply see Ray as Ray—no pronouns, no labels necessary—the only thing that matters is that we’re allowed to know Ray as a person apart from the cisgender definition of male or female. Seeing Ray as gender non-specific allows us to concentrate on the challenges of Ray being Ray, and this non-specificity is integral in establishing the relationship between Ray and Wyatt, the guy who charms his way into Ray’s life, because the very thing that makes Ray such a strong character makes Wyatt strong too. This straight guy is attracted to Ray not because he’s certain of Ray’s gender but because he’s drawn to Ray’s outward projection of who Ray is inside: a mix of confidence and sass, anger and vulnerability.
Danford’s writing style is fresh and vibrant, a good complement to her twenty and twenty-three year old protagonists. Ray’s tough exterior is exposed while at the same time revealing all of Ray’s tender spots: the family issues, the things that make Ray a dichotomy—brittle, sensitive, strong, and simply wanting to be accepted. The author succeeds in helping us to understand and empathize with Ray’s character, even though Ray’s prickliness won’t allow us to get too close.
Wyatt, on the other hand, is the steadfast and determined hero ready to champion Ray at every turn, complete with Ray insisting upon referring to him as Sherriff Earp. Wyatt is the man who means to be the agent of the change he wants to see in the world, and in many ways he becomes Ray’s touchstone. They both deliver the author’s message loud and clear—that coming down on the right side of history means tearing down walls, destroying labels, upsetting the status quo, and being the instigator of progress in the Greek system at Ellery College. Wyatt is a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy and is immediately likeable for his confidence and kindness.
Now, the downturn. Where Uncovering Ray lost all credibility for me, where its overarching message of rejecting gender normative labels failed just before the halfway mark, is in the revelation of Ray’s biological gender. “Hey, man—you a chick or a dude?” It’s directly established in the blurb that this is a tiresome question for Ray, it’s the crux of Ray’s personal challenges and struggles, and is the core of Ray’s identity as neither, or both. The author establishes a powerful visual image of Ray’s androgyny from the start, only to obliterate that image by revealing Ray’s genitalia on page in an overt sexual way, creating for the reader the impossible task of recovering the ability to see beyond Ray’s anatomy, and leaving me with the distraction for the remainder of the book of trying to figure out why it was important to establish that visual. In my opinion, it wasn’t important at all and entirely contradicted Ray’s characterization at the outset of the story.
How did this impact the novel’s overall message? It also took a good bit of the sheen off Wyatt’s shining armor, to be honest, in ways that are complete spoilers to the book, but suffice it to say, the only thing we can end up crediting Wyatt with is seeing past Ray’s androgyny and accepting the way Ray chooses to dress. Not a bad message, but again, I feel this book could have made a much greater impact if Ray’s genitalia had been kept completely off the page so the reader could embrace Ray’s fluidity without influence from the mental picture the author provides.
Having said all that, little is resolved at the end of Uncovering Ray, but it is an otherwise sweet story; ambitious, angsty and optimistic, with a pivotal scene that redirects the tide of events in Ray’s life, and just might bring around some of the changes Wyatt is working toward. I liked this book, even in spite of some rather clichéd secondary characters and what I feel was a detractor to its message about destroying labels and redefining gender norms.
You can buy Uncovering Ray here: