Title: What Boys Are Made Of
Author: S. Hunter Nisbet
Publisher: BadApple Press
Pages/Word Count: 356 Pages
At a Glance: S. Hunter Nisbet has just written her way right to the top of a list of authors I’m anxious to hear a lot more from—starting with the sequel to this book.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Simon “Saint” Flaherty is sixteen the day he enters a back-alley mixed martial arts fight in his Appalachian town. The odds are overwhelmingly in his favor, but no one expects him to win by accidentally killing his opponent, least of all Simon. His coach uses the publicity to set Simon up in the fight of his life in scarcely a month’s time, but physically ready doesn’t mean mentally ready.
Erin Livingston has taken care of Simon since he was orphaned at the age of eleven, a replacement son for the one stolen away from her by a war that tore the country apart and left her hometown in isolated ruin and at the hands of despot cartel leader Jeff Petrowski. Not only does Petrowski keep an iron grip on the community, but his grasp is also rapidly closing in on Erin as Simon’s limelight reveals a secret she’s desperate to keep hidden from the world. Now Erin is searching for a way out, any way out.
Nothing can stop Simon’s next fight, barreling toward them at the speed of a shotgun shell. No one dares help Erin, not if it means risking their lives against a man with no mercy. In this tightly woven story of enduring in the face of violence, Simon and Erin must decide whether a chance to escape a life not worth living is worth the danger of losing it altogether.
Review: Being sort of a word nerd, I subscribe to the “Word of the Day” on one of my apps. When “unputdownable” popped up one day, I swore to all the gods of the written word that I’d never use it in a sentence.
I lied. Apparently twice, because I’m getting ready to write it in a sentence again: What Boys Are Made Of is unputdownable. It’s one of the finest nightmares I’ve ever read, which is saying something as a fan of the likes of Stephen King and Dean Koontz, and S. Hunter Nisbet has just written her way right to the top of a list of authors I’m anxious to hear a lot more from—starting with the sequel to this book.
What Boys Are Made Of is set in Appalachia, in a post second Civil War dystopia, in a small town called Buchell. And it is indeed its own sort of -hell, lorded over by the worst sort of human darkness. The story is told in the alternating points of view of five of its characters, something that in the past hasn’t always worked for me, but here it does. In fact, I might even say that Nisbet’s stylistic choice is crucial to the telling of the story. This novel is very much a character driven piece, so in order for the reader to engage with the world in which these men and women live, it’s imperative to see it through their eyes. The author gave each of these characters their own distinct voice, their own set of extremes, their own moral and ethical codes and conundrums, and we see how their lives intersect. We also see the metaphorical pin in the grenade, and reading this book is waiting to see who’ll pull it and who’ll go up in flames with it.
Simon Flaherty, the Saint Flaherty around whom the series is based, is a sixteen-year-old victim of the war that has ravaged the country. He is not made of snips and snails and puppy dogs’ tails. Simon is made of hard edges and violent tendencies and raw, conflicting emotions, which is what makes him such a danger in the ring. Simon makes bank as a bare-knuckle fighter, but the sort of ultimate fighting done in Buchell sometimes means weapons, knives. And sometimes an opponent doesn’t walk away. The plot of this novel hinges around a fight Simon’s been signed up for—a knife fight with a boy, Connor Hall, who is Simon’s arch nemesis, a boy who seems to elevate being a mean-spirited son of a bitch to a new art form–but is he, or is it a defense mechanism, a means of surviving in his world? The fight is the inevitability, survival not guaranteed, the outcome of the fight a sucker’s bet. And it’s at the final fight that everything in this story explodes.
Integral to the telling of this story, then, are Erin—the woman who took Simon in as a feral child; Art—his fight trainer; Taylor—a man who’s landed himself between a rock and a hard place; and Grace—a young woman who’s stepped into the middle of something bigger and uglier than she could have imagined. Key to the way their lives intersect is one man, Jeff Petrowski, the gatekeeper to their hell and the man who holds the town and its people hostage.
What Boys Are Made Of is dismal. The world these characters inhabit is deadly. There is little in the way of hope or joy. Rather, this novel is permeated with a sense of despair, of secrets and shadows and a history that’s brought this place low. The spoils of war in this world have all gone to the devil personified, the defeat came at the expense of what is, or was, civilized and humane. And it is a brutal existence these people live. What makes this novel beautiful is the author’s prose. These characters are all written in flesh and blood, their world drawn in bleak and desperate lines. There is no romance or romanticism in the telling of this story, and it is not an LGBT novel; rather, it’s a novel with LGBT characters, and its heart resides in the misery that pervades.
I haven’t made this declaration yet this year, but What Boys Are Made Of is easily in the running for a favorite read of 2016. Here’s hoping for a repeat performance with Book Two.
You can buy What Boys Are Made Of here: