This book was one of the most hard-hitting emotionally I’ve read in a while, but sometimes it’s okay to stay up late, crying over your kindle and wondering if there is any junk food in the house, right?
Two years after being brutally attacked and left for dead, Aaron is a psychological wreck. He can barely function. He doesn’t interact with his own family, and has traumatic panic attacks if he’s touched. Before the attack which included the murder of his best friend
Aaron was a confident, popular kid. Now, he hates to leave the house and can’t stand the way people stare at his scars. But he pushes himself to go to college because he’s scared his parents want to institutionalise him.
Spencer is damaged in his own way. Born deaf, Spencer struggles making connections with his peers. This doesn’t stop him from screwing the delivery guy. Encounters like that are fine, as long as they’re over before Spencer has to talk. He’s not a “retard”, but people treat him like one when they hear him speak.
Aaron and Spencer meet at college, and that first meeting is fucking heartbreaking. Spencer, working up the courage to ask someone for directions, touches Aaron on the shoulder. Aaron has a panic attack. Oh, and just like in real life, the words “panic attack” are insufficient. Aaron is fucked up. Every touch takes him right back to that garage where he and Juliette were raped, and he watched them kill her.
Sharing the same computer class (the computer talk was all nonsense to me, BTW), Aaron and Spencer are partnered up for a joint project: the boy who can’t be touched, and the boy who can’t hear. Working via email and instant messaging is perfect for these guys, and very soon a real friendship develops.
That’s the crux of this story: the friendship between two boys who are both profoundly lonely and afraid.
This story is heartbreaking, pretty much on every page, and sweet and wonderful as well. The way that Spencer slowly draws Aaron out is beautiful, and every step that Aaron took made me want to hold my breath in case it went horribly wrong.
There is conflict here — Aaron’s parents don’t approve of Spencer’s dad, a psychologist with issues of his own, treating Aaron — but most of it is internal. And it’s beautifully realised. There are no magic fixes in this book, but there’s hope. When Aaron touches Spencer’s face, I dare you not to cry.
I just want to add that as a relative of a teenage boy with profound hearing loss, it makes my blood boil every time someone treats him like a “retard” just because of his speech patterns. The internet and texting are lifesavers for these kids, and allow them to communicate in a way that would have been impossible a generation ago. That was perfectly realised here with Spencer … and is probably the reason that I immediately fell in love with his character.
And this book.