At best, the teenage years are a confusing time of life; on one hand, teens want to be unique and to be noticed; on the other hand, they want to try to fit in and appear like everyone else. Jake, from 'Ben Raphael's All Star Virgins' by K.Z. Snow, is right in the middle of this ambivalence when his friends form an alliance dedicated to improving their images, making them appear intriguing and popular, rather than boring and unnoticed. Jake doesn't care so much, because he's not interested in being noticed by anyone other than his roommate, Rider; but, at the same time, Jake is trying to deny the physical sensations being close to Rider invoke. He's not ready to admit that he may be gay. As their campaign to make them more appealing continues, secrets are revealed which change the lives of Jake and his friends forever.
Jake is a good young man, smart, honest, and almost pretty. As with most of his friends, Jake has distant parents who don't feel like family. At school, he and his friends experience the nurturing they miss at home by banding together as brothers of the heart. Jake has been making excuses for years about his attraction to other men, not wanting to admit the obvious; but, when it comes to Rider, the feelings are so strong they become impossible to deny, only Jake won't take the first step. Their love is just beginning to blossom when Jake accidentally discovers a dark secret about Rider which could tear them apart. Jake is hurt, but the relationship between them is too important for him to ignore it. Jake knows if they are going to continue to be together, he has to know the truth. He confronts Rider which clears the air and gives Rider the courage to finally get out of a bad situation. Getting things out in the open draws Jake and Rider even closer together.
Rider has been attracted to Jake for a long time, but hasn't acted on it because he's not sure that Jake is gay. Finally, he decides to show Jake how he feels and Jake confesses his attraction as well. When Jake finds out about his affair with one of their female teachers, Rider knows he owes it to Jake to be completely honest with him. He explains how it started and how difficult getting out of it is, especially with someone as manipulative and cunning as his teacher is. Rider knows that the consequences of ending things with her could be devastating if the teacher tries to turn it all around to sound like Rider is the one who instigated the affair, but Rider has had enough and, along with Jake's support, is ready to face it.
Although this is a YA story, it concerns itself with some tough issues. KZ handles these with honesty and compassion. Older women preying on children is not a subject anyone wants to think about, but it is one which everyone should be aware of. There are certain signs that adults need to recognize in order to keep our children safe from this emotionally devastating circumstance. Children should never be made to feel ashamed, used, and guilty by adults, particularly ones whose care they are under. Mixed in with all this seriousness is a very endearing love story. I admired Jake for his honesty and Rider for being able to forgive himself and go on to create an even closer bond with Jake.
I recommend this serious, but important story, not only to teens who need to learn how to deal with these kinds of situations, but to adults as well. I think we need to keep our children as safe as we possibly can and this book has some important information about how to accomplish that. Thanks, KZ, for this insightful and informative story.