Reviewed by Donna
TITLE: The Red Thread
AUTHOR: Bryan Ellis
PUBLISHER: Dreamspinner Press
LENGTH: 256 Pages
RELEASE DATE: September 2, 2016
After a suicide attempt left him hospitalized for seven months, Jesse Holbrooke is returning home to live with his parents. Despite the treatment he received, his depression hangs like a cloud over his head, casting his life in a perpetual darkness he can’t seem to escape. But just when the obstacles become insurmountable, a glimmer of light appears.
Life hasn’t been easy for Adam Foster, a barista with a bad stutter, but he keeps his chin up and tries not to let the mockery of others get to him. Though shy, Adam is sweet and romantic, and Jesse knows they could be perfect for each other. Adam’s support gives Jesse the courage to face the darkness and believe in the possibility of happiness at last. But if their romance is going to last, both young men will have to look inside and find acceptance—for themselves as well as for each other.
I wasn’t the reviewer who originally requested this book to read for Love Bytes. I’d had my eye on it, but the blurb seemed to ooze “depressing”, and that’s not why I read romances. But the reviewer who requested the story sent out an SOS, citing a tsunami of emotional angst as the problem, so I stocked up on tissues and picked up the book.
I wonder what that would feel like – to be completely and utterly happy and content with everything. I would imagine that it feels like there is no darkness inside. It’s just lightness, and everything feels good. It won’t hurt to smile. It won’t hurt to live.
So where on earth do I begin with this book? The story is told in the first person point of view of Jesse Holbrooke, one of the most severely depressed characters that I’ve ever come across. Jesse has just spent seven months in hospital after attempting to kill himself. He’s nineteen years old, but has been “sad” for as long as he can remember. In some ways he’s very mature for his age, and in other ways he comes across as behind the curve. Such as his sexuality. He knows that he’s gay, but unlike most teenagers sex isn’t really something he spends much time thinking about. The idea of a serious relationship alarms him, because the possibility of someone breaking his heart, and further breaking him, is just terrifying. When we first begin the story I found Jesse’s narration to be rather zombie like. It was as though he was going through the motions of life in a daze, because if he allowed himself to feel anything, it wouldn’t be anything pleasant. I really enjoyed the anticipation of knowing that Adam was going to come along and break Jesse out of the haze he was living in. But as soon as that happened the anticipation became more trepidation, because you just knew that something (or things) really bad would happen. The happier Jesse became, the tenser I would become, just waiting for that axe to fall. Which of course, it did, multiple times, over major things and minor things, and completely imagined things. As Jesse says repeatedly, there is no escaping the voices in his own head.
As a counter to Jesse, Adam was perfect. His sunny disposition really added some much needed lightness to every scene he appeared in. I must admit that his stutter worried me at first. His stuttering is fully written out on the pages…
Blanket forts are c-c-cool. I, I even b-built y-you this nice f-f-fire.
I can’t argue with that. You’re never too old to enjoy a good blanket fort, but my point was…that stutter. I was concerned that by the end of the book I was going to develop some sort of tic it bothered me so much. I can’t even say why. In real life stutters don’t faze me, but reading those stutters in my head was driving me bonkers. At first. Then somehow, as I got to know Adam a bit better it just became part of his character, and I hardly noticed. There was also a lot of texting back and forth between the main characters, I don’t know if the author did this on purpose but it allowed for huge chunks of conversation sans stutter.
The secondary characters were very important in giving us the full overview of Jesse’s life. Family, friends and work – every aspect was covered as we moved with Jesse through his day to day life. In my opinion the author did a brilliant job of using these other characters to draw out different reactions from Jesse and show us the way his depression affected all facets of his life, and also the lives of those around him.
What struck me most about this book though, is the way the author obviously understands what he’s writing about. I have no idea if the author has experienced depression first, or even second hand or if the man is just a damn fine researcher, but I think this story will be a bit too much for some readers. I appreciated that the importance of medication was stressed, and the fact that Jesse falling in love didn’t “fix” him. Some of Jesse’s thoughts and the things he said just really hit home, because I think even if you haven’t experienced depression yourself, you can relate to them in different ways. My favourite example of that is when Jesse has enough of trying to be happy and just gives up, not caring that he’s upset everybody. Now I’m not saying that I’ve ever wanted to take my own life, but sometimes it feels so damn good to just say – stuff it, I’m giving up. Even if only for a little while. And the author has conveyed these mindsets so well, that you really feel what he wants you to.
The one and only complaint that I had with this story was that the ending all happened too fast. The plot climax doesn’t occur until after the 90% mark. It’s resolved quickly as we’re told – this happened, then this happened and then this happened. I didn’t really feel any closure, although perhaps that was to be expected given that Jesse will never be “cured”.
I absolutely recommend this as an insightful look into the struggles that some people with depression face. Although I found that I didn’t need those tissues I stocked up on, it is definitely an emotional read. As my fellow reviewer found out, it may prove too realistic for some readers.
My mom has told me that all she wants is for me to be truly happy in life. That is all I want too, Mom. That is all I want too.