Will Lafferty and Kenny Scalia are both having sort of a day. Will gets fired for letting fifth graders read Harry Potter, and Kenny finds his boyfriend and his sex toys in bed with a complete stranger. When Will knocks over Kenny’s trash can—and strews Kenny’s personal business all over the street—it feels like the perfect craptastic climax to the sewage of suckage that has rained down on them both.
But ever-friendly, ever-kind Will asks snarky Kenny out for a beer—God knows they both need one—and two amazing things occur: Kenny discovers talking to Will might be the best form of intercourse ever, and Will discovers he’s gay.
Their unlikely friendship seems like the perfect platonic match until Will reveals how very much more he’s been feeling for Kenny almost since the beginning. But Kenny’s worried. Will’s newfound sexuality is bright and glittery and shiny, but what happens when that wears off? Is Will’s infatuation with Kenny strong enough to stay real?
If you’ve read many of my book reviews, then you know I am a tremendous fan of Amy Lane. I love the emotions she brings out, though she is known by her monicker “Angst and Pain” Amy Lane, her 2014 book Shiny! is one of her finest creations. Not much angst and pain here, but a beautiful love story. Lane has written romances about knitters, porn stars, and horse trainers, but underneath all of her greatest creations are the shy, awkward, and a bit geeky. Two of my favorite characters, Shane Perkins and Evan Costa, are both closet geeks, while another favorite characters of mine, Wes “Whiskey” Keenan, is a teacher, professor actually. Lane does a stunning job when she puts forth a character who is shy, awkward, and geeky, but in Shiny! she has outshone herself with a character I instantly fell in love with, Will Lafferty.
Will is big and awkward, socially inept, loves science fiction and fantasy, and is a teacher, who has such a supreme passion for teaching, it makes my heart ache. Lane is a former teacher, and the mind of an educator comes through so well in Shiny!, as Will shows what I can only believe was the enthusiasm that Lane showed as a teacher. Those students who had Amy Lane as a teacher have to be some of the luckiest students in America. Lane passion for education comes across in Will throughout the book, even though Will lost his job as a teacher in the first chapter. When at the end of the book, Will explained why he’d let the students in the fundamentalist Christian school read Harry Potter, your heart leaps with joy for someone who can understand the supreme value of reading.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the character of Kenny Scalia. Kenny is full of worldly sass and really finds it difficult to trust and you just care so much for him. He’s also fun and dorky and nice (though sometimes he forgets to be the friendliest of people, but it is unintentional). Kenny is a fun character that serves as just enough of a contrast to make him the perfect fit for Will. And it’s hard not to love him when he says things like this:
“I was looking for sparkly. I should have been looking for warm and real.”
Kenny finds warm and real in Will, but Will is the true star of this book for me. He may not be as shiny as the outgoing Kenny, but he shines brighter than any character that I’ve ever been introduced to by Amy Lane. Will’s brilliance only shines brighter when in a nearly twenty-four hour period, he realizes that he is gay, when it took me nearly twenty-four years to realize. With Will, it just all clicked into place. However, Will, like I did, never thought it was a possible action to be gay. For me, that was taught consciously, but for Will, it was just not something he is aware of. Though it is a speedy coming out, which serves as a quick literary device, it mirrors my own coming out but mine was at a much slower pace.
No one can quite capture geeky awkwardness like Amy Lane can. Shiny! is a perfect example. As you know, I often listen to audiobooks on my drive back and forth from school. This was no exception and one of the things that makes this book even more enjoyable is the narrator Tyler Stevens. I cannot say it any better than Lisa did over on her blog “A Novel Approach” so I won’t try:
[Tyler Stevens] gives Will a voice that builds in confidence. Will was very quick to describe himself in the beginning of the story as “a totally average, normal, Christian-looking dude!” Tyler Stevens was able to build Will’s voice. At the beginning of the tale he did sound like an average, normal dude. When he discovers his “gayness,” he sounds like a kid in a candy shop discovering all sorts of new things. In the end he sounds confident, mature and completely in love. That’s what keeps a listener engaged, in my opinion. Not only did the story have a beginning, middle, and end, the narration did too. It kept me engaged throughout.
On a final note, the discussion Kenny has with Will about the realities of teaching as an out gay man, really brought this story home to me. If you’ve read my posts Monday and Tuesday, you know I can identify with this. Will is so good-natured and caring that he would never have been satisfied with not being able to be open and honest about the love of his life. If Will were forced to hide his true self, whether it be his love of Harry Potter or that he loves a man, he wouldn’t have been complete. When a teacher has to hide a part of himself, then he is not able to give his all for his students. When I’ve taught college, I had no reason to have to hide my sexuality, and it helped me to be a lively and engaging lecturer, but when teaching high school, there are so many parts of myself that I must hide and thus my students don’t get the real me.
Shiny! really is a must read. It is Amy Lane at her finest.