I had no idea what this book was about going in – it somehow came to my attention, so I picked it up. I thought it might be a light, fluffy, coming out story. Boy, was I wrong! It was actually an intense story not only about a teen coming to terms with his sexuality but it was also about physical survival, so it was a tough book to read at times. This is a book that will definitely throw your heart into a blender.
The blurb is as follows:
Seventeen-year-old Evan Panos doesn’t know where he fits in. His strict immigrant Greek mother refuses to see him as anything but a disappointment. His quiet, workaholic father is a staunch believer in avoiding any kind of conflict. And his best friend, Henry, has somehow become distractingly attractive over the summer.
Tired, isolated, scared—Evan finds that his only escape is to draw in an abandoned monastery that feels as lonely as he is. And yes, he kissed one guy over the summer. But it’s Henry who’s now proving to be irresistible. Henry, who suddenly seems interested in being more than friends. And it’s Henry who makes him believe that he deserves more than his mother’s harsh words and terrifying abuse.
But as things with Henry heat up, and his mother’s abuse escalates, Evan has to decide how to find his voice in a world where he has survived so long by being silent.
This is a powerful and revelatory coming-of-age novel based on the author’s own childhood, about a boy who learns to step into his light.
The story follows 17-year-old Evan Panos, the son of two Greek immigrants and the book mainly revolves around Evan’s relationship with his mother. There is something seriously wrong with this woman – she’s a religious zealot who is both verbally and physically abusive to Evan. She whispers in his ear, such things as “you should just die” or “I should have killed you when you first came out of me” (I paraphrase here – I can’t remember the exact verbiage but it was something along those lines). I could almost feel that hatred she had for her son. She refuses to allow him to follow his dreams and in fact, goes out of the way to block him every step of the way.
Additionally, his mother is extremely homophobic, and though Evan has never come out to his parents, she suspects that he’s gay and accuses him of it constantly, all the while spewing constant homophobic vitriol towards her son. Evan goes through his days hiding his cuts and bruises from others, talking about how “clumsy” he is and how he is always falling off his bike.
It’s no surprise that Evan is scared, exhausted, isolated and in pain and his pain and suffering are so vividly evoked, that the reader is easily able to recognize the headspace he’s in and know how vulnerable he is. Thus, Evan decides to take the safest path possible: keep his head down, ignore his feelings for his crush and bide his time until he can finally leave home.
But as the story progresses, his mother’s abuse escalates and becomes even more terrifying, and as a reader, you can’t help but worry about Evan and wonder whether he’ll even make it out of this situation alive. As such, many parts of this book were especially difficult to read.
I found my heart breaking for Evan as he tried to hang in there and figure out who he could trust through all of this. So not only was he suffering from abuse at home, but he was also grappling with his sexuality and his identity while attempting to find his place in a world that was not all that kind to him at the moment.
It’s not very often you see stories of abuse at the hands of a mother, with a meek father sitting by, doing nothing and making excuses for the abuser’s behavior. Usually, we see the drunken, abusive stepfather trope, so it was refreshing to see another take on this, though it was no less horrifying. There were also others in authority positions that could have helped Evan but until the end of the book, choose to ignore what was going on.
But though the story is heart-wrenching, it is also beautiful, and Evan does come out shining at the end, thanks to the love and support of a boy he’s especially fond of and whose loyalty and compassion assist Evan in transcending his horrific experiences. So in this way, it is heartbreaking and heart-mending as he finally steps into his own and finds his voice. He comes to realize that no matter how much he might hope for his mother to change, it is up to him to make the change in his life and escape the madness of his situation.
Though the book does end on a positive, hopeful note, it is a book about a darker subject matter, so it’s probably not recommended for more sensitive readers as there are excessive physical and verbal child abuse triggers as well as homophobia. The descriptions of the abuse are graphic in places. But that being said, the ending was well done and optimistic. So in this way, it’s a story that first rips your heart out and then puts it back together.
This book is a painful yet powerful read that will have you angry during some parts and weeping with joy at others. It provided a multifaceted look at some of the more unsettling aspects of human relationships and a realistic portrayal of abuse at the hands of a fanatical parent. Though I found it emotionally draining at times, I was deeply touched by this story.
All in all, The Dangerous Art of Blending In was beautifully crafted and evocative, and though raw in places, it was a book I’m glad I had the opportunity to read. Recommended!
You can check out The Dangerous Art of Blending In HERE