Earlier in this year, author Mia Siegert wrote a guest post during the blog tour of her debut novel, Jerkbait. She talked about the importance of LGBTQ+ representation in YA literature and its ability to educate young readers and prevent bullying and hostility for gay, lesbian, and transgender youth.
My schedule finally allowed me to read Jerkbait in July and it lived to my expectations. No, it surpassed them! Jerkbait is the kind of book that reminded me why I still read and love YA literature. The writing is superb and the characters are believable and complex. The story tackles heavy issues such as bullying, depression, and teen suicide but it does it brilliantly and honestly. I give Jerkbait my highest recommendation.
Tristan is our narrator, a high school senior who was forced to play hockey most of his life because that was the plan his parents envisioned for him and his brother Robbie. Tristan is straight, but unlike Robbie, Tristan does not have a passion for the sport. He prefers writing, acting, and watching musicals. Tristan actually has a raw and natural talent for singing and acting, but his creativity is stifled by his overbearing, helicopter parents who only want their son’s lives to include hockey.
Robbie is Tristan’s identical twin brother, but they may as well be strangers. In the beginning of the novel, we hardly see the twin brothers speak to each other or engage outside of their hockey games. What Tristan doesn’t know, nor anyone else for that matter, is that Robbie is perpetually depressed and suicidal because he feels pressured to stay in the closet by everyone and everything around him. He is the best player in the school’s hockey team, is one of the most popular people in school, and his parents are already planning his career as a professional hockey player. Due to all of this pressure, Robbie cannot imagine coming out as gay even though he has known for a decade. If he does, he figures his life will shatter to pieces. Finally, Robbie crumbles under all that he is expected to be and tries to kill himself. This attempted suicide then changes the course of the twin’s relationship.
Rest assured that I have not spoiled too much, as most of what I revealed can be gathered form the back blurb and first couple of chapters.
After Robbie’s suicide attempt, the story soars! Reading this relatively short novel (244 pages) was extremely rewarding. I don’t mean to say that it was funny or delightful or lighthearted because it is not that. There are funny parts, but it mostly reads as serious contemporary YA. Mia Siegert uses Tristan’s voice to narrate the entire story. Tristan is a beautiful soul and I assure you that you will adore him by novel’s end. The arc of his and Robbie’s relationship will grip your heart, shatter it, and then reassemble it wholly with an extra dose of hope.
The characters are excellently crafted and relatable…or contemptible. I have already expressed how much I adore Tristan and Robbie. But there are several other great characters that litter the story. Tristan’s former best friend, Heather, was one of my favorites simply because I hated her. She had me screaming and groaning in disgust because she was a vile and mean-spirited creature. I don’t want to ruin what she does to the twins, but gosh, she was very believably petty and loathsome. You know its’ good characterization when you actively love and/or hate characters. This is what Mia Siegert does throughout the novel. The parents, love interests, friends, and villains are all rendered vividly and realistically.
I do have to admit slight disappointment at the fact that the narrator is not gay. When I read LGBT fiction, I prefer the story to focus on or to be narrated by an LGBT protagonist. However, in the case of Jerkbait, Tristan’s voice works well. He is a kind and compassionate youth who loves and accepts his brother. By having a straight ally as the narrator, teens are able to see a model who is supportive, non-judgmental, and who stands up to injustice. And in Robbie, readers are able to see a story of growth and a path to self-acceptance that is so relatable and moving that it’s difficult not to empathize with and understand Robbie’s struggles. This is ultimately where Jerkbait triumphs — as a vibrant, honest, and poignant lesson in empathy.
I cannot recommend this book enough, so please read it if you are a fan of contemporary YA or books about LGBT issues. It’s also a darn good story on its own and one of the finest YA debuts of 2016.
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