Title: When Ryan Came Back
Author: Devon McCormack
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: 230 pages
Rating: B List
Blurb: A Harmony Ink Press Young Adult Title
Steven’s life changes forever the day he discovers his childhood friend and lifelong crush, Ryan Walters, standing in his bedroom. The problem? Ryan Walters committed suicide just days earlier.
Ryan tells Steven that he didn’t kill himself. He believes he was murdered and that his death is linked to an article he was working on for the school paper. Steven sets out to solve the mystery, but as the story unfolds, so does Ryan’s secret life of sex with guys and depression. Steven realizes suicide is more plausible than Ryan’s conspiracy theory, but he struggles to convince Ryan of the real cause of his death. And despite revelations of his friend’s closeted life, he must face the truth that Ryan doesn’t—and never will—love him.
Review: This is a compelling and difficult read. I was sucked in and read right through to the end. A complex story that is at times funny, sweet, heartbreaking, silly, frustrating, tragic, and endearing. It is not for the faint of heart or those looking for a light and easy read. It isn’t a romance or a fluffy bit of fun. I was hooked early on and found myself racing through the twists and turns and riding the emotional roller coaster alongside Steven.
Steven is a senior in high school. He isn’t popular but he isn’t a pariah either. He knows he is gay, but is taking the head down approach because the only guy he wants is his straight, popular, jock friend, Ryan. He knows that he cares more about Ryan, wants more from Ryan than he will ever get, he always has. They were best friends when they were kids and grew apart when Ryan moved across town, but Steven had thought that they were finally growing close again. Except then Ryan died, and the cops are calling it a suicide. Steven is trying to figure out if there were any signs that he missed, if there was anything he could have done to help his friend, he doesn’t know what to think. Then one day Ryan is standing in his bedroom asking for his help.
Steven’s reaction to ghost Ryan was pretty funny. To say it took a bit of an adjustment is a huge understatement. He actually handled the whole thing very well. But he’s never been able to say no to Ryan, and it doesn’t seem that death has changed that.
Steven’s pain at the secrets and lies that seem to surround him is palpable. The sense of betrayal that he is swimming in as revelation after traumatic revelation is uncovered as he digs into what killed Ryan is wrenching. As he delves further into the hidden past of not just Ryan, but those who surrounded him in his final days, it leads Steven into danger and begins to put his own life at risk.
Unrequited love is an agony and to have the object of your desire completely out of your reach is understandable, but when Steven begins to find that it was just him that Ryan didn’t want, my heart broke a little right along with his. The fact that he continued to help Ryan was admirable, sweet and self destructive. But being the only one who can still interact with Ryan puts the responsibility squarely on his shoulders.
These guys fight and make up and snark and are so sweet together. I couldn’t help wanting them to somehow do the impossible and find a way to be together. But this is the time of life that is full of breaking up, moving apart and on to bigger lives and dreams, how can they possibly have a future together when one of them is dead?
This isn’t a story grounded in reality, rather it is a fantasy and a coming of age story full of the confusion, angst, drama, love, friendships, betrayals and trials of two young men on the cusp of adulthood. There are some very serious issues that are addressed in this story. It is a bit dark and the secrets that Steven uncovers in his investigation are serious and criminal.
*****Trigger Warnings That Contain Spoilers – There is an adult in a position of authority taking advantage of the underage students in their care. There are two murders and two attempted murders. Parents cannot be trusted. Adults cannot be trusted. Both betray the trust of those who rely on them in varying degrees of horrifying ways. There is mild violence and fighting. The sex is off page and any sex between minors was referred to in past terms.*****
Reviewed by Nina