Title: Under a Sky of Ash
Author: Brandon Witt
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages/Word Count: 270 Pages
At a Glance: I need everyone to read this book so that I can speak openly about it, because ALSDFJSLFDJLASJDF!!!
Reviewed By: Jules
Blurb: More than a decade after leaving Colorado to attend college and escape his past, Isaiah Greene moves back and builds a life in Denver as a special education teacher. When he meets Ben Woods, the mentor of one of his students, the attraction is immediate. The revelations that they’ve both suffered traumatic childhoods form a bond between them.
Raised by an abusive grandmother, Ben is a recovering addict who has made a family with his construction worker boss, Hershel, and Hershel’s husband, Daniel—drag queen ManDonna. Adding Isaiah to his life gives Ben a glimpse of a future he’d never dreamed possible for himself.
Both Isaiah and Ben are survivors, but when guilt drives a wedge between them, the past threatens to end their relationship.
Ben and Isaiah embark on journeys of self-discovery. Though their path will be difficult at times, humor and love find a way to bring light to the darkness.
Review: This book was so unexpected in the best way. I mean, I expected it to be good—I requested it for review because the blurb grabbed me, and I thoroughly enjoyed this author’s last book—but, I did not expect the wonderful, rich, moving reading experience that I got. There is so much I can’t talk about in this review. So much that I’m
Here are some things I CAN tell you…
First, there is such lyricism in both the title of the novel and of the four parts within. The four section titles—Gathering the Tinder, Stoking the Fire, Igniting the Inferno, and Sifting the Embers—speak beautifully to the flow of the book. This is masterful storytelling by Brandon Witt; the way the narrative was crafted and woven together honestly blew me away.
Witt’s last novel, The Imperfection of Swans, hit the ground running, with an intense attention-grabbing scene; Under a Sky of Ash begins in a similar fashion, with a gripping—in this case also harrowing and devastating—scene that immediately makes the book one that is impossible to put down. The story begins as a twelve-year-old Isaiah Greene experiences both the joy of his first kiss with a beautiful boy named RJ, and the horror and violence of hatred at the hands of RJ’s father.
Jump to twenty years later, we meet a grown up Isaiah, now a special education teacher, in a tense meeting at school regarding Aaron, one of his higher maintenance students. Aaron’s current foster situation is definitely less than ideal, but thankfully he also has Ben, his mentor through the Big Brother program. It is instantly obvious that Aaron responds very positively to Ben, and that they have a great relationship. Upon meeting him, Isaiah is immediately attracted to Ben, yet manages to maintain a professional discussion about Aaron at their first meeting.
Isaiah and Ben’s relationship builds in a really good way. They initially act on their shared attraction, but quickly start to feel connected in a variety of ways, first over their shared interest in Aaron, but also as they discover that they have even more in common than they realized.
The nearly four weeks since opening up to Ben had been some of the freest I’d ever know. I thought the same was probably true for him as well. Though neither of us brought up our pasts again, and despite them being different in many ways, the scars of deep trauma served as a bond.
One of the themes in the book—a theme that I really enjoy—is that of chosen family. Often the family we choose is healthier for us, or suits us better, than some of our blood family, and that is absolutely the case with Ben. Having lost his parents at a young age, Ben is raised by his hateful, bigoted grandmother. This woman is vile. But, after a difficult childhood and some rough years as an adult, he was fortunate enough to meet and eventually be basically taken in by Daniel, who is also the drag queen ManDonna, and his partner, Hershel. He eventually finds a job with Hershel, an NA sponsor in Daniel, and a family in them both.
Brandon Witt is so good at mixing in humor with the drama in his heavier themed works. This book is definitely on the heavy side. Extremely heavy at times. But, one gift he has given us here is the unbelievably fabulous ManDonna to help brighten up some of the darkness. ManDonna, who Ben calls “momma,” is unforgettable and hilarious. For more levity, there is also a wonderful wedding in the book. And, Isaiah’s relationship with his co-teacher and roommate, Charity, is so lovely and lighthearted as well.
Ok—I feel like I’ve given you all enough reason to go out and grab this book. Under a Sky of Ash is a fantastic, suspenseful, soulful read. I wanted to hug both MCs, as well as Aaron and Hershel and Daniel/ManDonna, throughout. I got goosebumps on more than one occasion. I need everyone to read this book so that I can speak openly about it, because ALSDFJSLFDJLASJDF!!! I highly recommend this one, guys.
You can buy Under a Sky of Ash here: