There are many reasons I would never pass up a J.H. Trumble novel: her amazing, realistic characters, her engaging way of portraying life in all its beauty and ugliness, her ability to transform a devastating situation into one of hope. But perhaps the main reason over all is that Trumble never shies away from a sensitive issue.
In Don’t Let Me Go, she explores the aftermath of a vicious assault in the form of a hate crime against an openly gay teenage boy, Nate, and the repercussions the attack has on his life and his relationship with Adam while also fully exploring the ups and downs of a relationship damaged by trauma, distance, lies, and infidelity. Trumble gives flashes and bits and pieces of the attack on Nate throughout the book, yet never dedicates a lot of ink to it at once. I find this to be one of her strengths. By withholding the full details, she lets the reader’s imagination fill in the gaps, probably creating a more haunting image than words on a page would. She also builds the most believable, painful relationships. With Nate and Adam, there are insecurities and little white lies and accusations and big ugly truths that almost destroy them, and these happen in real relationships and ultimately cause more pain and suffering when, in fact, being honest and sharing those doubts, insecurities and feelings from the get-go would have saved a lot of pain and suffering, but at the same time it is that pain and suffering that lets the characters (and anyone in a relationship) understand what they have/had, what they almost lost, what they truly want, and what they have to do to get it back. Love is messy and heartbreaking and Trumble captures it all so perfectly, such an honest portrayal of relationships and all the ups and downs, pretties and uglies.
In Just Between Us, Trumble really goes after a delicate issue: AIDs. In this book, Luke from Don’t Let Me Go has fallen in love with his neighbor, Curtis, but Curt is hiding a terrible secret. His HIV test has come back positive. I love the dark path Trumble takes us on with this character: denial, anger, isolation, refusing to cope with the consequences of his actions. If Curtis is darkness, then Luke is the light in this book. Optimistic, dedicated, willing to make sacrifices and take risks for the man he loves; yet the pain of persistent rejection is a wound that festers and eats away at Luke. Never one to have a character only struggle with one issue, Trumble creates a homophobic father who uses his fists at the same time that he is trying to reconnect with his family. Luke’s life becomes a roller coaster of emotion that leaves him (and us readers) shattered, alone, and angry at the hurt and pain that others cause him. What I love about Trumble’s characters is how honest their actions and reactions seem. She makes them come alive. I can see these people living next door to me, passing me on the street, sitting on the bar stool next to me. They are so human, so real in their emotions, decisions, failures, shortcomings, and triumphs.
Trumble does it again in Where You Are. Another sensitive subject: student/teacher relationships. It would be so easy and so cliché to paint Andrew as a predator, a teacher preying on a minor who is hurting and confused. It would have been so easy for readers to crucify him in this light. But, of course, Trumble doesn’t write Andrew that way. She makes him human, capable of mistakes and sympathy and love and indiscretions. And Robert. He’s no naïve school boy with a silly little crush on a cute teacher. He is a young man whose world is crumbling down and in the midst of great sadness and loneliness finds someone who loves him despite the mess his life has become. Trumble creates such a beautiful story that readers feel love and sympathy for Andrew instead of the disgust usually associated with teachers who enter relationships with students. Reading Where You Are is like boarding a train that you know is going to crash. As soon as I read the blurb, I knew it wouldn’t end well. I knew things were going to go down a forbidden path and turn ugly and damaging to those involved. But I boarded that train anyway because that’s what you do with a J.H. Trumble book. You step aboard and get taken for a ride that is devastating, emotional, tragic, uplifting, and complicated. A ride that is basically life, and Trumble captures and portrays it all perfectly.
I can’t wait to see what ride she will take us on next.