I think I’ve found a new obsession and their names are Rickey and G-Man. Actually, her name is Poppy Z. Brite, so yeah, she made me love these boys; I’ll give credit where credit is due, but Rickey and G-Man are the reason I’ll keep coming back for more until there is no more left to come back for.
The Value of X is the beginning of their story together, and it’s not an easy start. How can it be when neither of the boys is old enough to have any say-so in what goes on in their lives? They’ve been best friends since the fourth grade, but somewhere about the time their hormones kicked into “from zero to sixty in two-point-two seconds” gear, they come to the undeniable conclusion they wanted to be way more than besties, and their struggle to discover if the other felt the same was a big part of the draw for me.
It’s also at about that same time that Rickey’s and Gary’s parents, (their moms and Rickey’s dad, at least; Gary’s dad mostly just goes with the flow.) come to the conclusion their boys’ feelings for each other don’t fit into the find a nice girl, get married, and make babies blueprint, so they come up with a plan to keep the boys apart after high school graduation, thinking that distance will “cure” them of their feelings for each other. Go ahead and groan at this part; I did. The saddest thing about the plot, though, is that it almost worked, and that made my heart clench for the better part of the book.
Rickey’s love affair with food and plans for his future guarantee he’s going to go along with his parents’ plan to send him to culinary school in New York State, which is a hell of a long way from the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. For Rickey and Gary, it may as well have been in another galaxy far, far away. These boys are kids from families with no disposable income, which means no spontaneous trips home for Rickey during the school year. The story is set in the early ‘90s, so they don’t even have the luxury of cell phones and video messaging. They are as separated as two eighteen year old boys could’ve possibly been at that time, and the letters they write to each other become increasingly distant as well, until they cease altogether.
This book is filled with all the urgency and angst of first love, and the promises that are made with the innocent faith that those vows will be easy to keep. But the reality of it is that promises are easily made and sometimes are just as easily broken even though the intention was never there to do so. Rickey and Gary persevere, though, in spite of temptation, in spite of the drugs and alcohol they turn to, to cope with the hurt and anger and desperation they feel. One of the many things I love about these characters is that they are perfectly imperfect. They aren’t the stuff born of fantasy; they’re real and flawed. They don’t have six-pack abs or trendy clothes or look as though they belong on the cover of a magazine. They make mistakes and really questionable decisions, but they learn. The most important part is that they learn, in the end, what they truly mean to each other, so I’ll read on and see what’ll happen next for them. I’m looking forward to finding out.
*The Value of X can be found in hardcover from the major e-tailers. To purchase it in electronic format, it can be found in the book Second Line, which pairs it with the fifth book in the series.*