Reviewed by Chris
TITLE: Kindred Souls
AUTHOR: Max C. Payne
PUBLISHER: Less Than Three Press
LENGTH: 129 pages
RELEASE DATE: September 5, 2017
Jay is a foster kid and dyslexic, which leaves him at odds with his foster parents’ extended families and feeling more alone than ever at the holidays. He’s not good with crowds and tends to shy away from people, which makes summer school not much better than his home life.
While avoiding his problems, he meets popular transfer student Seiji, who frequently feels alone even in the midst of an adoring crowd. The two grow close over the summer, but come the school year, Jay starts to think their friendship was really just a momentary distraction to Seiji..
After a six month push back of the release date, I have to admit that I forgot for a while that I requested this book to review. And to be honest, by the time I did get the book I was kinda unsure how well the story would play out. I did hope, though, that the extra time was used to help polish the story up and that the finished product would be worth the wait.
Sadly I can’t say I was all that wowed by the results. Mostly I was just bored.
This story, probably to its detriment, is very simple. Jay is a high-school foster-kid who is dyslexic and suffers from social anxiety. Sei is a highly popular Japanese transfer student. It turns out that even if their social classes are polar opposites, they are able to connect and become friends. That is about it. There are some details about the two guys’ pasts, as well as some delving into how their differences make it hard for them to connect to people, but on the whole, it is your garden variety nerd/popular kid high school trope.
And done right, yeah that trope can really work. But there is this sense of depression and morose detachment to this story that makes it hard to read for any length of time. It wasn’t until I was nearly finished the story that it struck me that Jay reminds me a lot of Eeyore, from the Winnie the Pooh kids show. Always sad. Always depressed. Always convinced that the rest of the world hates him…or at the very least doesn’t give a fuck about him. And while Eeyore has a sense of charm to him, Jay does not. A moody antisocial depressed teenager is not exactly someone I want to spend a whole hell of a lot of time around. Especially when he doesn’t really change from the start of the book to the end of it.
The writing doesn’t help either. The dialogue is very clunky–in that I’m 100% convinced that not only does no teenager on the planet talk like this, I’m pretty sure no human does either. Exposition gets repeated three or four times. Things that should be incredibly interesting–like all the traditional holiday events–only get talked about, never seen. And it mostly came off feeling like it needed at least one more round with the editor–or a different one altogether.
The story also tends to focus on things it thinks are interesting, but then never gives the reader a reason to join in. If you don’t care about Japanese culture, comics, or manga…well, this book doesn’t have a whole lot to offer you. I don’t need to be converted to a love of any of these things, but I need a reason to care about how these characters feel about them. I really wanted to feel a connection to the Japanese culture in this book, if only thru Sei–but I never can. Sei doesn’t do much more than go, “yeah we do all these cool things and I like them a lot.” It was a bit of a let down.
I can’t help but feel that there were quite a few aspects of this story that could have been much better handled…and unsure why that extra six months were not used to do so. It is not like this was a bad story at its core, but it certainly was a mishandled one. There is no driving force to the plot, no movement to the story, no character growth or alteration. And there was absolutely zero romantic chemistry between Sei and Jay–which would have been fine except they suddenly started making out in like the last chapter which was both abrupt and uncomfortable to read. I can’t help but feel that this story had no clue what it wanted to be, and it showed.
Also, I think I’m a bit too jaded to buy the whole loner/misunderstood artistic genius sub plot where Jay ends up changing a whole industry because he has secret awesome skills that no one noticed before. But that is probably just me.