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Within a month, Alex gets kissed and then unceremoniously dumped by Tommy, a closeted footballer at their rural Georgia high school.
It's the first of many changes for Alex as he enters his senior year of high school: His mother commits suicide, he starts dating new-neighbor Robby and his father begins an affair with Martha, Robby's much-maligned mother. Jillian, Alex's best friend, feels Alex pulling away from her and launches into a self-destructive relationship with Robby's stepfather, which comes to an abrupt halt when Jillian finds herself pregnant. Desperate to escape the confines of their rural community, the three teens plan an escape to Chicago, only to have their plans thwarted by violence. Rife with implausible scenarios, wooden characters and clichéd dialogue, Barnes' sophomore novel for teens (Mesmerized, 2010) is a dreary slog through a mashup of many a gay-teen novel from yesteryear. Alex and Robby appear to be in an endless cycle of puppy love, in which moments that should lead to character development turn into extended swoon-fests. There's no real emotion behind any of the dialogue, leaving the author's hand very visible in all the plot actions, which are so scripted they carry little impact. Despite a few mentions of texting, Barnes fails to develop a setting, adding to the book's overall dated feel.
This noble attempt to explore rural LGBT issues is buried under an avalanche of flaws. (Fiction. 13 & up)