4 out of 4 stars
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Beneath the Surface by Andrew Teague McCollister is a fictional coming-of-age story that is inspired by the life of the author. The timeline jumps to different pivotal events that are depicted in five connected short stories featuring Conner Mills, a scholarly champion swimmer in the process of exploring and accepting his sexuality.
McCollister begins the book with a preface that offers insight into his writing and how it has evolved over the years. The book's title strongly parallels McCollister's reflective writing style. The 134-page story traverses themes of acceptance, gay sexuality, mental health, depression, rejection, fear, suicide, loss, grief, and love.
McCollister's story hosts a diverse cast of relatable characters, including Conner's parents, friends, and lovers. The first story, "Bathroom," gives readers a glimpse into teenage Conner, as well as his mother, who attempts to protect him by initially keeping her cancer diagnosis from him. McCollister realistically portrays the scenario when Conner's mother reveals that she has received treatment; her thirteen-year-old son appears insensitive, but he is wrestling with blaming himself: "The only thing I felt was disappointment about myself. For a year, I believed that she missed work three times a week to go shopping. For a year, I didn't ask about the medicine that made her hair fall out." Incidentally, McCollister devotes the book to his parents and describes them as "The Best Parents a Child Could Ask For."
I especially like McCollister's talent for crafting eloquent passages that invite rereading: "As soon as you spoke, I knew it was a perfect fit. Your name was beautiful, but Claire seemed to capture you, all of you. So fragile, mysterious, strong, and beautiful, all wrapped in a song-like package." In my favorite story, "The Beach at Sunset," McCollister poignantly reveals Conner's pain from a recent loss and how his buried grief affects his perception and interactions with others. On a lighter note, the story also makes me long for a day at the beach!
While most of the stories refer to Conner's sex life, McCollister tastefully leaves much to the imagination. There isn't anything I dislike about the book, but I will caution sensitive readers that the book contains profanity, nonexplicit sexual content, drug use, and references to suicide.
It is my pleasure to rate Beneath the Surface 4 out of 4 stars.The professionally edited book is insightful and beautifully written. I recommend it to those who enjoy coming-of-age stories and LGBT readers. Sensitive readers who object to any of the content previously mentioned may prefer to pass on this one.
Beneath the Surface
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