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Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

*Saints of Augustine* by P.E. Ryan- young adult dark fantasy book review

Click here for Michael Leonard's interview with Saints of Augustine author P.E. Ryan

Saints of Augustine
by P.E. Ryan
Grades 10-12 320 pages HarperTeen June 2007 Hardcover    

At the core of this novel is relationship between two boys, Sam Findley and Charlie Perrin, who suddenly find they are at odds with each other and set adrift in a world that seems to have an inability to understand their innermost secrets and desires.

Sam and Charlie have been best friends since they were nine, Then, one day, their friendship just stops. Charlie doesn't seem to know why, and Sam has never explained why he ended it. Charlie is first shocked then angry that Sam just won't give him the reason for walking out on him.

They both live in the same neighborhood and attend the same school, but for over a year now, they haven't spoken a word to each other. One day, Sam just told Charlie over the phone with a strange quiver in his voice that he didn't want to hang out anymore.

At school they make eye contact, but Charlie always turns away. After a while, it becomes easier for Charlie to just not even to say hi. Charlie misses Sam, and it would have been nice to talk to him when his mother got sick, especially after she died. Certainly if Charlie had stayed friends with Sam, he could have been far more open with him.

Bitter and fed-up, all Charlie wants to do is escape to a deserted island somewhere, far away from all of the complications that people can bring. Indeed, Charlie seems to have lost the emotional resources to cope. For the year since his mother's death, things have been going steadily downhill; its almost as though he's had to relearn his whole life.

Charlie's home has been progressively falling apart. Staggering from the death of his wife, Charlie's father, a specialist in real estate, has all but stopped going to work. He does little more than sit around the house reading books, mulling over the paper, steadfastly watching television, and taking naps that sometimes last half a day.

While Charlie watches his father turn little by little into a hermit, drinking heavily and refusing to eat, he prays that his mother can somehow return so that she could put him back on track. Although Charlie has a nice girlfriend named Kate, a car, and a year left to go in high school, thoughts of his mother bring on a sadness that he just can't seem to rise above.

Meanwhile, Sam's father, a successful architect, seems to be key to Sam's journey toward real meaning in his life. He's recently moved in with David, his boyfriend, much to the chagrin of Sam, his mother, and his younger sister, Hannah. He's also just flown off London to research a project with David, and the fact that's he's all the way across the Atlantic has put an added strain on the family.

It's been almost a year since his parents were separated, and at first Sam was glad for his father, but he hadn't quite understood the ramifications. When his father calls him from London with the words "you know your mother and I still care about you and each other a great deal," this does little to dispel Sam's feelings of insecurity as he battles to come to terms with his own sexuality.

Bright, intuitive, and with an understanding far beyond his years, Sam is well aware of the consequences of having Mom's new boyfriend in the house, the homophobic, wisecracking Teddy who is just so over-the-top with all his sniggering gay jokes that Sam finds the whole scene totally downright annoying.

Luckily, there's some light on the horizon in the form of Sam's best friend, Melissa, who hooks him up with smart, sexy Justin McDonnell, "his hair so blond it was nearly white, rising up on a cool, crazy sweep right off his forehead." Certainly for Sam, Justin's the absolute coolest guy he's met in a long time.

For Charlie, however, things aren't going that well. He's under a lot of pressure from Kate to quit smoking grass while also contending with the viciousness of Derrick Harding, the local dope supplier. A year ago, Derrick sent Charlie home with a bag of marijuana, telling him not to worry about paying for it. "Later," was his famous line. "You can pay me later."

The problem for Charlie is that a year has now passed "like smoke in a breeze," and suddenly he finds himself the unwilling target of Derrick's revenge plan. It doesn't help that Charlie lacks the ability to play "the good game," and he's well aware that doesn't really fit in with all the jocks, especially since his mother died.

This lovely coming-of-age tale is also a tender, sweet-hearted parable and a symbolic reflection on the need to belong. In the course of the story, both Charlie and Sam learn some hard lessons about the need for courage in order confess one's innermost secrets, regardless of whether these secrets will be accepted or not.

Although Saints of Augustine is basically a novel for teens, adults will find much pleasure in reading about the trials and tribulations of Charlie and Sam as they journey towards forgiveness and generosity, and even an acceptance of themselves and of each other.

Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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