By Jeff Walsh
Nick Nolan's "Strings Attached" is a fun beach read of a book. I can safely say that, as I read it on a beach all day today. But seriously, this novel starts out like your typical gay young adult novel, but then adds a lot of additional layers and metaphors to make it an even more compelling read.
When the book starts, Jeremy has to call 911 for his drunk mother, who almost died... again. He ends up living with his aunt, with whom his mother had a falling out after the death of Jeremy's father. This aunt is incredibly rich, with butlers and a huge mansion overlooking the ocean. In short order, Jeremy goes from poverty to posh.
As you know is a gay young adult novel, you start lining up all the things that will likely happen, and most of them don't. Or few things happen as you initially suspect. If anything, I'd go as far as to say Jeremy's awakening about being gay, while integral to the story, is less dramatic than the family drama around which it is set.
One of the best parts of the book, though, is just how well it is paced. With a lot of moving pieces, Nolan seems to keep everything moving and balanced well. There is less shifting of gears that you find in some novels, where this chapter is advancing the gay story, and now we switch back to the family story, etc. Here every character seemed to have a reason to be there, was well thought out, and pushed the story forward. The characters all seemed to defy becoming caricatures, as the rich aunt, the caring butler, and the effeminate guy at school all seem to go deeper than you might expect.
I'm a bit of a nut when it comes to over-revealing when it comes to book or movie reviews. I think that a huge part of the enjoyment is how things unfold and letting there be as many surprises as possible for the reader. So while there are Pinocchio metaphors and a mystery surrounded in the death of Jeremy's father, I'll just say that it all comes together nicely. I especially likes Carlo, the effeminate, out and proud teen, because it seems to be a constant issue that people first coming out remain a bit uncomfortable with people who dance on the line of gender and masculinity, and how it usually says more about the people in whom it causes discomfort. I really likes the Carlo character from the moment he appeared in this book, and think he plays a huge part in my enjoyment of the book.
The good news, if you read and enjoy this book, is that Nolan has already released a sequel called Double Bound, which I have but am not reviewing just yet. But if you get Strings Attached, you can read the first three chapters of Double Bound, as well.
It's telling that in the end notes to this book, Nolan thanks the late Paul Monette, who wrong the amazing memoir, Becoming A Man. This book shows you Jeremy becoming a man in his own right, and it's a trip worth taking.