Title: Under the Stars
Author: Geoff Laughton
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Pages/Word Count: 180 Pages
Rating: 4 Stars
Blurb: Ethan Tanner is an out and proud, fastidious, and fashionable sixteen-year-old vegetarian who likes theater and musicals. This year, it’s his sister’s turn to pick the vacation destination, so he ends up on a dude ranch he knows he is going to hate. What with the dirt, animals, and germs, he can’t possibly be happy.
Jason McCoy is the closeted sixteen-year-old son of the ranch owners and is trying to find his place in a world that doesn’t seem to fit him. He takes an interest in Ethan, shows him around, and gets him to ride a horse. When he invites Ethan camping, Ethan thinks Jason must be joking. But Ethan takes a risk, and the two boys bond under the stars.
After that, Ethan and Jason are inseparable. Their friendship grows into something deeper as they begin to figure out what they want from life. But Ethan’s home is in Chicago, and the distance might be more than the two teenagers—and their blossoming relationship—can withstand.
Review: In his second YA novel, Geoff Laughton once again writes a beautiful love story that is grounded in a teenager’s reality. Under The Stars is a young adult novel that grapples with gay teens and their struggle over coming out and letting in. For the young rancher, Jason, it is a matter of declaring who he is to a decidedly homophobic set of parents. From a father who cannot return a simple hug, to a mother who lives in her husband’s shadow and rarely contradicts him, Jason is trapped on a ranch he does not love and with a family who may throw him to the world the moment he admits to them that he is gay.
Ethan’s life could not be more opposite.
Growing up with loving and accepting parents, Ethan never hides who he is. Rather, he embraces his sexuality to the point where he isolates himself from his family. A bit of a germaphobe and slightly neurotic in his need to look good in his designer clothing, Ethan carries a bit of a chip on his shoulder, and rarely endures a hug or compliment from his parents. He is the total opposite of Jason and when Ethan learns that his sister has chosen to have the family vacation on a dude ranch in the middle of nowhere, Ethan almost begs to remain home. However, he grudgingly goes along and within just days, the normally standoffish Ethan finds himself with a new friend and a steadily growing attraction.
Geoff Laughton has an uncanny ability to focus on younger adults and make them not only realistic but interesting as well. He is an author who is able to walk a mile in the shoes of his young men and help us to understand what makes them tick and gives us a window into how they see the world around them. Never whiny or unrealistic, Jason embodies the young person who fears being thrown away by his family if he dares to come out to them, while Ethan is the gay teen who has stood his ground and come out but finds that meeting like-minded boys is not an easy task. Both of these lovely young men are scared in their own way, afraid to admit their love for each other and completely aware that theirs is a doomed attraction due to limited time and living a thousand miles apart; both Jason and Ethan must be open and vulnerable if theirs is a love that will bridge the distance.
Under The Stars is a lush story that was part coming-of-age and part first love. With a building sense of tension over their looming separation, your heart just aches for these two boys who may learn to love and lose that same love in a short span of time. This was a wonderful YA novel from a truly gifted author.
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