Juliann Rich’s debut novel Caught in the Crossfire is a new and much needed story in Gay YA literature.
The book is about a gay teen who is a devout Christian, and struggling to reconcile those two things. We first meet Jonathan at the beginning of a month long bible camp. At the beginning of the story, Jonathan is aware of his feelings for guys, but not too eager to try and understand them. We’re also introduced to Ian, the love interest, quite early. Ian, we learn, is also gay and is much more outspoken about gay rights. The beginning of Jonathan’s friendship with Ian is the catalyst to him really discovering his sexuality and forcing him to come to terms with what it means for him and his faith.
In a previous post, I mentioned how this book reminded me of fan fiction. That is not a diss at all– if you look down on fan fiction, you probably have never read a really really good one. The thing about fan fiction, is that it talks about sex in a very honest (and yes, explicit,) way. And because of this, it can show what consent and safety looks like, what the repercussions and aftereffects can be, better than anything else. That’s what made me reckon this book to fan fiction: the honesty with which she talks about sex.
Two of the main supporting characters were a Native American woman, and a disabled man. I was happy when they came into the story, because all too often gay white boys become the face of diversity, and Caught in the Crossfire avoided that pitfall. The thing that made me particularly happy was that they weren’t given worth simply because a white guy decided to like them. They were fully formed characters who held their own space, and even gave HIM worth with their gazes. But it was also very clear they had lives of their own, outside of helping Jonathan– which is not only realistic, but also very respectful and unfortunately not often done.
Along the same lines, in many love stories between two guys, there’s always a female that falls into the “desperate cock-blocking bitch.” While there was a girl in this story that was interested in Jonathan, I think you would have to stretch very far to throw that at her.
This is an important book because although I’ve seen queer characters struggle with their sexuality because they’re in religious families, most of them at the end abandon the religion, and in some cases their entire religious community. Which isn’t to say that path is wrong– It’s just important to have stories about the kids who decide to go a different way. Although I think this is a book anyone would like, it’s an important book for queer teens growing up in Christian families, and the people who make up those families. Having gone through a situation like that myself, I found myself wishing I had this book four years ago so I could hand it to all my Christian friends.
A new era of Gay YA has come, that have queer characters that aren’t defined solely by their queerness. Caught in the Crossfire definitely falls into that camp. I don’t know how that’s possible, because Jonathan’s sexuality is sort of a huge part of the book, but somehow, he’s never defined solely or even predominately by his sexuality. Which was pretty cool, because like, as a queer teen, yes there is a lot I’m still exploring and some of my life is revolving around that, but not enough that it becomes all of who I am.
And aside from all of that, the story was beautifully written and highly enjoyable. Usually in first person POV, I begin to feel like I’m in the author’s head instead of the characters– that didn’t happen with this book. I’d go so far as to say that this is the best first person POV I’ve ever read. Jonathan’s voice never wavered. The other character’s voices were also extremely clear and consistent. Juliann somehow mastered the art of capturing distinctly different voices without bogging the dialogue down with speech tics: I found that I always knew who was speaking before I read the tag.
The plot clipped along at a nice pace and no part of it felt like it dragged or was rushed. The description Juliann used really made me feel like I was there, seeing all of it. The characters were lovable and realistic, and went on amazing journeys.
When I first picked up Caught in the Crossfire I honestly didn’t expect much from something so thin, but it took me places I did not expect. I read it in two days. I cried three times. And I would definitely recommend it. I can’t wait to read the sequel Searching for Grace when it comes out this September!
Book Review written by Victoria, co-webmistress of GayYA.org
Check out Juliann Rich’s guest post The Intersection of Art and Advocacy!