Saturday, 23 March 2013

Heartless (Keeping Secrets #1), J. Roman


A teen discovers how family secrets can affect not just his life but the lives of those around him.

- Review by Cindi

** I recommend this book for older teens or young adults because of strong adult language, descriptive sexual situations, sexual violence and attempted sexual violence, not all off-page. **

Jason Strummer has an unusual life.  He is a popular seventeen-year-old gay male at Erwin High School, a school that accepts homosexual students in a way that most don't.  He is known as the playboy of the school because the art of saying no to sex is unheard of to this young man.  He doesn't do relationships... ever... and the only person he is genuinely close to is his straight best friend, Kevin.  
"I once saw it written on some guy's blog that there were three types of gay men in the world: virgins, sluts, and the rest of us.  Virgins didn't know better, sluts didn't care, and everyone else was just trying to find love and happily ever after.  I can securely say I fit into the second category.  It wasn't even impulsive on my part.  I just never turned anyone down who was up for a good time."

Jason is also known as a bully.  After being bullied when he came out at thirteen it is now his MO to strike before being stricken.  Jason is not a horrible person.  He just refuses to stand back and allow anyone to do to him what was done in years past.  His words can be cutting but there is always a legitimate reason for them... in his mind anyway.  

Jason has only loved one other person in a more-than-friendship kind of way:  Tommy Johnson.  Tommy had been a friend to Jason while he was in middle school and never would Jason have expected the reaction that he got from Tommy on the day he came out of the closet (in the middle of a class I might add).  Tommy not only got angry but he made it his mission to bully his former friend for being gay.  This devastated Jason as he had had a major crush on Tommy until that day.  Well, there is the old saying about payback.  Two years after Jason's coming out scene in the classroom and Tommy's bullying, Jason got Tommy back in a very big (and very public) way immediately after Tommy himself came out.  It was harsh. It was childish.  But it got the job done and Jason never felt an ounce of remorse for what he'd done.  Until later.  Much, much later.

On the outside, Jason has it all.  The looks.  The high grades.  The popularity.  The confident, cocky attitude.  On the inside he's dying a little each day.  He has secrets.  Secrets that have destroyed all self-confidence and strongly affects the way he not only views himself but others. He is unable to form close relationships with anyone other than Kevin.  He feels dirty, worthless.  The thought of his secrets being exposed makes him bitter and angry but he keeps those feelings inside.  He must hide behind the cocky attitude or he will be a lost boy... a boy who knows in his heart that he will never be normal.

His arch-nemesis Tommy Johnson comes back into Jason's life in a big way.  The bitterness and anger between the two starts to wane when Jason is rescued by a very angry Tommy as Jason is being assaulted.  Suddenly Jason is seeing Tommy differently and he realizes that the love he felt as a young teen has never fully dissipated.  His act of revenge years earlier now looks cruel.  The two boys begin a tentative relationship with Jason confiding his secrets to a shocked Tommy.  As the two embrace what they can have, they both sense that there is much more on the horizon ... both good and bad.  
"I want this to be real.  Not like me blowing you in a locker room.  God. You are so jaded.  Do you feel anything?"  No, I didn't.  Didn't he know my rep?

This is told strictly from Jason's point of view and it is done well.  I initially did not like his character as he came across instantly as an obnoxious bully.  It did not take long for me to see what Jason was hiding.  Like Tommy before, he is hiding his pain behind his current actions.  Tommy bullied Jason when they were in middle school because he was dealing with coming to terms with his own sexuality and it scared him.  Jason hides behind his cocky attitude to hide the pain of what happens behind closed doors at his family home.  There is a lot of pain and when Jason feels pain, he lashes out.
"That was low.  Even for you," he whispered.  I'd hurt him.  I'd hurt him deeply.  I wanted to beg his forgiveness.  I wanted to say I was sorry and that I didn't mean it.  I wanted to say that I still loved him even after everything that had happened.  But I didn't.  I couldn't.  I was a coward.

Tommy has his moments but I feel that his character is written very well.  He forgave the cruelty of what Jason did to him in the past as well as owning up to his own cruel actions.  He eagerly accepts Jason and the issues the other boy must deal with at home.  He loves him... wholly and completely and would do anything in his power to take Jason's pain away.  

"Love you, Jason.  Always have." The words filled me, sank down into my soul, and took up residence there.  It didn't matter that it was sudden and we hardly knew one another anymore.  We were young and falling in love with every touch.  Words I thought I would never say shot out of my mouth.
"I love you too."  He lifted his head and smiled at me, a smile that warmed his gray eyes until they were a polished-mercury color.
I knew deep down that I was ruined, but looking into his eyes, knowing that I'd put happiness in them, made me feel just a little bit whole.  It was then that I realized I had fallen irrevocably, unequivocally, and absolutely in love with Tommy Johnson, and there was no turning back.

There is an interesting cast of secondary characters.  Some you will love.  Some you will despise with every fiber of your being.  For me personally, the most hated character is hands down Jason's mother.  She allows things to happen to her son without any thought of stepping in to help him.  At no time does she protect her child, in effect forcing the boy to endure unimaginable horrors.  This is the first in a series and there is more story to be told but I have no doubt that my opinion of his mother will only get worse.  There are some things that one cannot come back from.  

Overall, this is a very good start to a series.  Being inside Jason's head gives the reader a good idea of what he personally feels as he is forced to do the unimaginable.  You will understand why he is the way he is outwardly.  You will find yourself eager to see the young man finally have a chance at happiness.  You will root for him to finally see that he is worthy, that he is not dirty. 
"You don't have to keep this mask up, Jason.  You're a beautiful person, and it's okay to let people see that." 

My only issue with this story is an instance where Tommy does something that is forgiven too easily. Otherwise a very good story.  I look forward to reading the next in the series.


  1. An interesting book. There is much damage done to young people when they have suffered at the hands of family, which it sounds like, and peers. I think this book would hit home some relatable issues for older teens upwards.
    Thanks for the good review, Cindi, which lets YA readers know content and make an informed decision.

    1. Thank you. It's pretty heartbreaking when you realize the pain that Jason is hiding behind his attitude. I am eager to see what happens next and I will find out as soon as I am done with the book I am currently reading.

      The language and sexual situations are pretty blunt. It's just enough to make me pause a bit, hence the quick comment at the top of the page. The violence would be the main thing. Not all is off-page.

  2. It is a sad fact of life and it does need a voice. It sounds like J Roman has given it one.

  3. Yes she did and she did it in a very real way. She didn't brush serious things to the side... she let you inside Jason's head so you could really feel what he was feeling. It was done very well.