Publisher: Amazon Digital Services Inc
Format: Kindle edition
Genre: Contemporary YA
Reviewed by: Judith
Let me tell you a secret: I’m not sure why but I had it in my head that I didn’t like this book. Don’t look at me like that. Stop. Let me explain. I have a notoriously bad memory and it told me (repeatedly) that I’d tried How to Repair a Mechanical Heart before and for whatever reason, I just didn’t like it. No idea as to why and no idea where that came from but that voice inside of me kept whispering this crap for ages and it WAS WRONG! Dead wrong. Now, I don’t admit mistakes often – I’m an Aries, we’re perfect…and beautiful and wonderful and funny and amazingly humble – but I’m stating it for the record now, mea culpa and all that. This book is fabulous. No, wait. It’s more than that. It’s so cool that I’m sure in some alternate universe I have neon glitter pink font and some blinking gifs of celebrities screaming at anyone who will listen in order to show what an excellent read this is…cause it truly is!
Plot: The summer after high school graduation, two cute and snarky boys hit the road in an RV. Their mission: follow the traveling fan convention for Castaway Planet, the cult sci-fi show they’re both obsessed with.
ABEL collects funny belt buckles, loves Castaway’s brave and dashing Captain Cadmus, has a hot boyfriend with a phoenix tattoo, and has nothing to hide—except his epic crush on Brandon.
During their six-week cross-country adventure, Brandon and Abel post new entries on their Castaway Planet fan vlog, spar with an online community of slash fiction writers, meet their TV idols, play with their action figures, uncover big secrets, and maybe possibly fall in love. Can two fanboys face down their obstacles and write themselves a real-life romance—or is fiction the only thing bringing them together?
Review: It’s gotta be said: hands down one of the best YA books I’ve read this year. Now what I love most about YA is its ability to take those minute details of teenage life and make them relevant to all ages. I like the characters to grow and transform into better than what they were. So even though the self-doubt, the questioning, the inherent angst of being a teen is all here, it’s described perfectly and with an end goal of getting past it and becoming an adult
Brandon is having a rough time of it. He can’t reconcile the fact that he’s gay with all the religious rhetoric that’s been pushed on him since birth. Couple his religious angst with the desire to make his family happy while also making himself happy and you have a great story of a boy becoming a man. Watching Brandon come to terms with the fact that he can’t be the vision of himself he’s invented in his head is truly enjoyable. Not because it’s easy to read, but because it’s spot on.
The evolving relationship between Brandon and his vlog partner, Abel, is the other overarching arc of the story. You root for Brandon to finally ‘get’ it and realize that the person who can help him the most is the one right in front of him. Their encounters sizzle and when [spoiler spoiler] they eventually do decide to head down that romantic road, it feels so right. I have to say I loved the fade to black…A lot of times adding sex to a YA fiction read feels cheap and desperate but luckily, JC Lillis didn’t resort to the oldest trick in the book to hook readers. Well, let’s face it, she didn’t have to and I’m more than glad that she kept it relatively clean.
JC Lillis just gets it – the uneasy, tummy tingling feeling of being a teen who’s different. That feeling of letting down not only your family but also your church and ultimately God because of who you are is not something that most people could write well. But she does it and does it beautifully. Her writing style takes some getting used to cause Brandon has an internal monologue that is part fanboy, part religious nut, and part teenage melodramatic. It’s a really unique writing voice that I’m betting you’ll either love or hate but chances are she’ll have you laughing out loud on more than one occasion.
So in the end, I’m giving this our highest honor, a whopping 10/10. If only all the other YA we read could get it right like this one.
Based on the following criteria:
How much did I like the hero: 10. Brandon is a champ. He didn’t like the direction of his life so he changed it, even though it scared the bejeezus out of him (literally). He forced himself to own up to what he wanted out of his life and though it was rough and made a lot of people he cared about unhappy, he did it any way cause it was right for him. I love when characters are strong enough to stand up for what they think is right. He also was sappy and sweet and a little bit schmoopy over a boy who was his complete opposite. There is something so satisfying about a cute boy acting sappy!
How much did I like the love interest: 10. Abel is hilarious. At first he reads like a caricature of an out gay man but in the end is so much more. He has a really good heart and a knack for latching on to the minutiae of life and making it something funny. His belt buckles, his crazy hair, his infectious joie de vivre really balances Brandon’s heaviness.
How believable is the plot: 10. Okay I don’t know much about fanfic or conventions or warring factions among sci-fi/fantasy universes but going to meet people you admire and following them around isn’t hard to believe. This road trip after high school is one we’ve all done (even if we didn’t have a camper or a sexy boy to go on it with) and is one we’ll keep doing as we grow and mature.
How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: 10. Wonderfully written with a funny inner monologue and no flaws! Gasp! Haven’t seen that in a long time, especially from a self-published book. This is beautifully nuanced and a gorgeous example of how good well-written YA can be.
How much did I want to keep reading: 10. Is Brandon going to have a religious relapse? Will Abel keep being adorable and funny? What happened to Bec and her dorky convention love Dave? Will we ever get these answers? Come on, JC! MORE!
Final Score: 10/10. Superlative book by a standout author. Get it now and devour it. You won’t be disappointed.