I spent several months anticipating the release of Carrie Mesrobian's latest, CUT BOTH WAYS. Everyone who read it before its release raved about it (at least, everyone that I respect), and it sounded outstanding.
But in some ways it was also the toughest of Mesrobian's books to read, because it touched on subjects that hit a lot closer to home for me.
Will Caynes is constantly being torn in two. He's torn between his divorced parents, a father that borders on alcoholism and a mother that's distant and distracted. He's torn between homes: his father's gutted house that he's been trying to help renovate, and his mother's McMansion that's cold and loveless.
When, at age seventeen, he finally has his first kiss, he's torn again: because it's with his best friend, Angus, while they're both drunk and high. And he isn't gay, but he kind of likes it. But then he meets Brandy, a sophomore that babysits for his dad's neighbors, and he likes kissing her, too. He strikes up relationships with both of them, even though he knows, deep down, that someone (mabye everyone) is going to get hurt.
Only now, as I write this, do I realize what an important role the search for identity has played in all of Carrie Mesrobian's books: Evan's identity as a victim and a survivor; Sean's identity as a young man; and now Will's identity as a sexual person. Will doesn't know who he is or what he wants, and figuring it out isn't easy when you don't feel like there's anyone you can turn to, except for the people you're having sex with.
One of the things that amazes me about Carrie's writing is her gift for using the ordinary to examine the extraordinary—how Will's simple job at his dad's friend's diner can, in micro, come to define all the best parts of Will and his life: constancy and direction and friendship.
The ending was rough. I was not surprised: life is messy and endings are never as final as they seem. But CUT BOTH WAYS's ending hit me harder, because it tapped into the fear that so many questioning kids have: being rejected, being kicked out, being homeless, being cut off from the people that are supposed to love us unconditionally. I (very selfishly) wanted to know how things panned out with Will's family once shit hit the fan. I have to hope things turned out okay for him, because I have to hope that for everyone.
CUT BOTH WAYS was a stunning, honest, and brave book. It tapped into my own fears and twisted my heart around. And, like Will, I couldn't stop myself: I had to keep going back for more, even though I knew I was going to get hurt.