Aaron by JP Barnaby
Author: JP Barnaby
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press, October 2012
Rating: B List
Blurb: I can’t describe what it’s like to want to scream every minute of every day.
Two years after a terrifying night of pain destroyed his normal teenage existence, Aaron Downing still clings to the hope that one day, he will be a fully functional human being. But his life remains a constant string of nightmares, flashbacks, and fear. When, in his very first semester of college, he’s assigned Spencer Thomas as a partner for his programming project, Aaron decides that maybe “normal” is overrated. If he could just learn to control his fear, that could be enough for him to find his footing again.
With his parents’ talk of institutionalizing him—of sacrificing him for the sake of his brothers’ stability—Aaron becomes desperate to find a way to cope with his psychological damage or even fake normalcy. Can his new shrink control his own demons long enough to treat Aaron, or will he only deepen the damage?
Desperate to understand his attraction for Spencer, Aaron holds on to his sanity with both hands as it threatens to spin out of control.
Review: From the first page to the last, this book reached into my chest and manhandled my heart. Aaron is so broken by a random attack he suffered at age sixteen, one in which he was forced to endure horrors nobody should deal with. Unable to help himself or his best friend Juliette, his view on humanity has been so violently wrenched from him and replaced with nothing but terror, nightmares, and a fear of another’s touch.
As much as Aaron hated what he had to go through, he wished others could understand even a little bit so that they would know what he faced daily. His own mother couldn’t touch him without inducing a panic attack; his brothers, who once idolized him, looked at him with fear and resentment that he required so much care and attention; his father, unable to face exactly what his oldest son had endured, looked through Aaron for lack of knowing what to do to help. They all loved him fiercely, but they just couldn’t comprehend. Aaron, despite being surrounded by family, feared he’d live out his days alone in his own head.
Until he met Spencer Thomas. Overhearing a conversation between his parents about the possibility of committing him to an institution, Aaron desperately agreed to try college, just one class, in order to move forward in some manner with his life. Choosing a computer class for the promise of solitary work through an anonymous screen and keyboard, Aaron nearly quit when the professor announced a project requiring a partner. As luck would have it, the professor paired him up with Spencer, a deaf boy who would benefit from electronic interaction that would allow Aaron the distance he needed to complete both the project and the class.
It’s through small conversations with Spencer through electronic chats that Aaron finally finds something to fill the void inside. He found a friend, and the acceptance, someone caring for him, felt so foreign and refreshing that Aaron risked the meager existence to which he’d become accustomed to keep it, deepen it, and live again.
Spencer, tired of meeting people who treated him like he had a mental deficiency instead of an auditory one, found someone who didn’t pity him, didn’t judge his brain on the flat resonance of his voice. Excitement over their shared project morphed into true friendship, and then something more, something both men needed. Spencer’s disintegrating relationship with his alcoholic father primed him for giving even a difficult friendship a chance.
Barnaby weaved the subtlety of emotion through both these characters expertly and I found myself riveted, eager to see where they would go with each other, their families, and their future. I liked that Aaron didn’t become miraculously fixed by the magic peen in this story like some other authors would have tried. Some things can’t be fully recovered from, and Aaron would always suffer the effects of his attack, aside from the physical scars he bore as a reminder. I was impressed by the psychology of Aaron’s situation, and the many ways Barnaby showed his survivor’s guilt, the guilt he had over being such a burden on his family, his frustration that his family didn’t fully grasp the horror he endured, the fear at a simple knock on the door, the thoughts that perhaps it would have been better for everybody if he’d died alongside his best friend. It broke my heart, and the healing he found in his friendship with Spencer, the trust he discovered again in Spencer’s psychiatrist father also healed my heart. When Aaron’s mother let her fear of Aaron being hurt by his demons take over, leading her to interfere with his recovery once he started on that path, I wanted to cry and rail and scream at her out of frustration and the urge to protect Aaron myself.
The only reason this gets a Cher as opposed to a Marilyn is some editing issues and the fact that I believe Aaron’s desire to touch and be touched happened rather quickly and with fewer ramifications than Aaron dealt with at the time of the touches. They were a revelation, and I believe they could be possible for someone with Aaron’s condition, but it felt too easy.
Overall, a rollercoaster of a book with characters I cared about and no easy resolutions for the sake of the Happy Ever After. It still left me positive and hopeful, and Barnaby didn’t cheat on the ending. Not one bit.