Family secrets are exposed as two teens try to make an already shaky relationship work.
- Review by Cindi
** Recommended for older teens or young adults because of strong adult language, descriptive sexual content and talk (and the emotional and physical aftermath) of off-page sexual abuse. **
In Heartless, the first book in the Keeping Secrets series, the reader is introduced to Jason Strummer and Tommy Johnson. Former enemies, the two are are now trying to have a relationship. Tommy is in love with Jason and Jason feels the same. Jason has been forced night after night to endure abuse at the hands of his stepfather as his mother stands back and allows it to happen. Tommy is mourning the recent death of his mother. Heartless ends with Jason moving into the home of Tommy, his two uncles and other adopted children. Clueless takes place almost immediately after the end of Heartless.
Jason is not used to discipline or rules. He has lived in the home of his mother and stepfather and with the exception of what the stepfather does to him behind closed doors there have been no consequences for any of Jason's actions. He is allowed to come and go as he pleases as long as he is back when Jonathan, his stepfather, wants him. Moving into Tommy's house with his family is a huge wake-up call. There are rules that are strictly enforced and each person in the household must abide by them whether they agree or disagree.
Things are going relatively well until Jonathan shows up one night at the store where Jason works. He's angry and is demanding that Jason come back home. The reader knows why Jonathan wants the boy home. This sets Jason into a downward spiral. Hurt and angry, Jason acts out inappropriately in order to mask what he is really feeling inside. Tommy makes his mission, his job, to protect Jason at all costs even if it means going along along with whatever crazy idea the boy comes up with. Tommy's friend Rick goads him in regards to Jason. He calls him homophobic slurs and is constantly making nasty comments aimed at Jason. Only his late mother's words prevent him from taking action.
"Strength means not having to show it off because someone made you angry, Tommy. Strength means holding back when all you want to do is lose your mind."
Bad actions have consequences in Tommy's world and going along with Jason's antics causes major problems in Tommy's household. Jason still refuses to tell anyone other than Tommy or Kevin (his best friend) what occurs in his own family home so Tommy is left picking up the pieces of what Jason does and drags Tommy (and others) into.
Clueless, unlike Heartless, is told from Tommy's point of view. While the reader was privy to Jason's thoughts in the first book we are taken inside Tommy's head in Clueless. It was difficult to watch. He is convinced that it is his duty as Jason's boyfriend to be the strong one and to protect Jason at all cost. What he doesn't realize is that by always trying to be the strong one Tommy is in fact harming himself and his relationships with those around him. Tommy has his own issues and losses that he must personally get a handle on before he can honestly be the protector he wants to be. He has to figure this out first. In one angry and hurtful moment Jason is forced to walk away... from Tommy, Tommy's family and the relationship. Tommy had finally reached his breaking point.
"I'd finally reached my limit with him. I didn't know how strong my resolve was, but it would have to be strong enough. I loved him, but in this instance love wasn't enough to make things all better. This wasn't a fairy tale and I wasn't Prince Charming, or if I was, my Cinderfella sure has hell wasn't letting me slay the dragon.
He swallowed and nodded before walking out the door and out of my life. I heard the kitchen door close and let myself mourn the second most devastating loss in my life."
In the beginning I found myself extremely angry with Jason and how he treated Tommy and his family. He was bratty, obnoxious, selfish, disrespectful and not thankful in any way toward those who were disrupting their lives for him. This changed later as I saw little by little why he lashed out and acted the way he did.
Secrets cannot be kept forever and Jason's come out in a very big way. When this occurs it is highly emotional for the reader. I admit to getting a little more than teary-eyed as I read this part of the book. It was real. With the help of Kevin and his family and Tommy and his, Jason starts walking on that road to recovery. When the book ended there was still a lot of recovery time ahead.
This is a very emotional story. From watching Tommy trying to do it all to observing Jason as he goes from one extreme to another. I found myself rooting for both boys and hoping they would be able to make it work. I just wanted to hug Jason and keep him safe. I wanted to tell Tommy that it was okay to mourn his mother and not try to be the big strong one all the time.
As with the first book, I still hate Jason's mother with every fiber of my being. More so actually. My feelings for Jonathan are obvious but throw in an aunt as well who angered me as much as the others.
"I hated his family, hated his parents, hated his life. I wanted to wrap him in cotton and give him every good thing I'd ever had. I wanted to bleed for him and make other people do the same. I wanted them to suffer as he had suffered, as he was still suffering."
Tommy's family is perfect. They are not traditional nor do they claim to be but they work. The same can be said for Kevin and his family though in a more traditional sense.
There are major questions left unanswered so I am going to assume and hope there will be more to Tommy and Jason's story. This is a very emotional read about very real issues. The author wrote the pain of both teens well. I am eager to see what happens next.