The Dangerous Art of Blending In caught me by surprise. Surmelis’ writing is powerful. Evan is compelling and endearing. The entire book is poignant and, at times, equally heart breaking and hopeful. It reminded me a little bit of A List of Cages in this way. It is definitely worth the read.
Seventeen-year-old Evan Panos doesn’t know where he fits in. His strict Greek mother refuses to see him as anything but a disappointment. His quiet, workaholic father is a staunch believer in avoiding any kind of conflict. And his best friend Henry has somehow become distractingly attractive over the summer.
Tired, isolated, scared—Evan’s only escape is drawing in an abandoned church that feels as lonely as he is. And, yes, he kissed one guy over the summer. But it’s his best friend Henry who’s now proving to be irresistible. It’s Henry who suddenly seems interested in being more than friends. And it’s Henry who makes him believe that he’s more than his mother’s harsh words and terrifying abuse. But as things with Henry heat up, and his mother’s abuse escalates, Evan has to decide how to find his voice in a world where he has survived so long by avoiding attention at all costs.
This book deals with some pretty difficult issues of abuse and homophobia (not only from a family member, but also from peers). In many ways its a coming out story, but it’s also a story about finding your voice and limits. At the same time, the tension between his culture and religion and Evan’s life is equally powerful and challenging. All in all, there’s moments of tension and danger exactly where you’d expect it, and in moments you never could have predicted.
But that’s part of what makes this book so moving.
Evan is dealing with all of these forces in his live that are trying to shape him, and he resorts to trying to blend in. (and one of the things I loved about Surmelis’ writing is that he makes all these minor parallels between blending in and the immigrant experience as well).
The characters in this book are well rounded. They never fall directly into one category – even his parents. We can see the challenges his dad faces to provide for the family. For his mother who is afraid. And even for his best friend Henry. Surmelis doesn’t excuse people’s actions to the reader. It would be wrong for us to read this book and immediately type cast his mother into being the villain. Or his father into being weak.
It’s entirely easy to empathize with Evan because he’s a character who is going through so much. But I’d go further and say that Evan’s narrative voice makes it easy to see what he’s thinking. It makes it possible for us to see through Evan’s eyes and this is the true skill which allows us to empathize with Evan.
(This book grapples with so many intriguing and difficult topics such as motherhood, homophobia, and the emotional effects of the cycle of abuse).
This book is a lot to wrestle with. But if you read it, I think you will truly enjoy it.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review from Edelweiss.
What’s the last book that dealt with powerful themes?
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