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The Dangerous Art of Blending InReview - The Dangerous Art of Blending In
by Angelo Surmelis
HarperAudio, 2018
Review by Christian Perring
Jul 31st 2018 (Volume 22, Issue 31)

Evan Panos is a high school senior at the start of the school year. He has several secrets. One is that he is gay. He has not come out to his family or his friends, but his mother suspects. She is so worried that she sent him to Christian camp during the summer, to put him back on the straight and narrow. But he met another boy there who he liked, and they kissed. He hasn't told his best friend Henry about this, and the two of them don't face up to the attraction between them. Evan also lies to his friends about the source of the many bruises and injuries he has. He says that he is just clumsy and is always falling over and bumping into things. But the truth is that his mother attacks him physically, and also emotionally, and has done this since he was a young child.

Evan's parents are Greek and his mother especially is a deeply committed Christian. She judges anyone who does not go to the right sort of religious observance and who doesn't go to the right church. She has traditional values thinks that homosexuality is a terrible sin. She brings in their pastor to their home to pray the gay away. When Evan talks back to her or does anything that she interprets as disrespect, she becomes full of rage and hurts him, telling him he should never have been born and that he is a disgusting human being. Yet she also feels remorse after her attacks, and apologizes, explaining she only wants what is best for him.

Evan's father knows what his wife does to Evan, but mostly he does nothing, only stepping in when her attacks seem life threatening. He will talk to Evan at other times, and often they go very early in the morning to get donuts together, so they have a fair relationship. But Evan wonders why his father doesn't stand up for him when his mother is going through one of her rages.

The main way Evan has to cope with his home life is to separate it from the rest of his life. He doesn't tell anyone about what is going on, and only expresses himself in his journals and drawing. But his situation is pushing him to be more open about his sexuality and he won't be able to hide this from his parents. So his life is heading towards crisis.

The book follows a fairly typical arc of a YA novel. So many YA novels are formulaic, and this one has high school boys, bullying, parental abuse, and closeted gay themes. But what redeems this story is the intensity of the family scenes. Evan is an engaging narrator and he vividly conveys the dilemmas he faces. We get some of the usual high school scenes but at least there isn't a prom. The unabridged audiobook is performed by Michael Crouch who really conveys Evan's uncertainty and anguish, and also manages well with the Greek accents of Evan's parents.

 

© 2018 Christian Perring

 

Christian Perring teaches in NYC.


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