Seventeen-year-old Evan Panos doesn’t know where he fits in. His strict Greek mother refuses to seem 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.
I am crying from 38,000 feet in the air as I type this. The Dangerous Art of Blending In has given me every feel, even some I didn’t know I had. It was beautifully and eloquently written. It was heartbreaking and soul shattering and amazing. It was overwhelming and wonderful and I’m currently so hungover I can’t figure out how this world existed before The Dangerous Art of Blending In and how it will continue to exist now that I’ve finished it.
Big trigger warning ahead: This book deals with child abuse in a very real and a very raw way. If this is something that is triggering to you, proceed with caution.
Evan Panos is seventeen years old. He has spent the entire summer at bible camp where he met Gaige, a summer fling with whom he’s shared exactly one kiss. But as Evan returns home and tries to reintegrate into his normal routine, things get messy, quickly. First, there’s his asshole delightful pseudo friend, Jeremy, who aims to make everybody around him miserable while simultaneously maintaining his title of biggest douche I’ve ever read in my entire life. Then, there’s Henry, Evan’s beautiful best friend from whose smile the sun shines. Seriously, Henry is the most delightful love interest ever written. He’s complex. He’s got depth. He has his own story, even though he isn’t the focus of this book. In fact, Surmelis doesn’t waste characters; everybody has a story. Everybody is important. He has a very conservative approach to introducing characters in the story.
Evan’s biggest problem? His mother. She’s awful. She’s a real bitch troubled soul. A religious zealot with her own complex backstory, she is angry and abusive. She accused Evan of having evil within him. She attempts to pray it out, beat it out, guilt it out, and any other method of expelling the evil from him she can.
Evan’s not evil. Evan is gay. And his mother isn’t actually evil. She’s mentally ill. She needs help.
The person who was supposed to love me the hardest–the most unconditionally–has always wanted me gone. No matter how hard I tried to be perfect.
Evan’s father is almost absent. He makes excuses for Evan’s mother because of her painful past. He helps Evan in secret. It’s loathsome how uninvolved he is in saving his son. But that’s a several-miles-long rant I’m choosing to spare you from. You’re welcome.
Evan’s school life is rough. He spends everyday hiding scars and bruises and being the butt of a joke. People make fun of his clumsiness (his excuse for all of his bruises) and pick on him for his clothes and his appearance. All of which are defense mechanisms to help deal with the abuse he’s receiving. His life is complex and complicated and nobody except for Henry can see it. But Henry, with his 20/20 vision and his amazing floppy hair. He’s special. He’s amazing. I’m in love with Henry.
Maybe I’m not so ugly after all. Maybe no one is really ugly, and maybe no one has the right to call someone that or tell them that they are. Maybe the only real ugliness is what lives inside some people.
Surmelis addresses society in interesting ways in this book. He addresses homosexuality in a real and important way. And he can do this as a writer in a way that I’ll never be able to because I’m not gay. I can support and advocate for gay rights all day long, but I don’t have firsthand knowledge. It’s good to read from people who do. It’s good to see the world through others’ eyes. Surmelis addresses homophobia by making you fall in love with the characters as people, showing you their inner workings and their feelings and their humanity. And then he shows you how ugly and awful people can be. How hate filled they are. My biggest problem with this book? It’s not fiction.
The Dangerous Art of Blending In is inspired by Surmelis’s own life experiences. He experienced this hatred firsthand and dealt with abuse and pain the way Evan has. What’s worse? Evan’s/Surmelis’s stories are not unique. They’re not rare. They’re what people are dealing with every single day. People that you and I interact with everyday are dealing with true, unadulterated hatred. They are being persecuted everyday by people who claim to be spreading love.
I am going to take a moment to stand on my soapbox, because this is my blog and I do what I want. I am a Christian and I love you whether you’re gay, straight, bi, trans, man, woman, child, black, white, Asian, middle eastern, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, tall, short, fat, skinny, or any other discriminating feature you may have. And anybody who claims to be a Christian and does not love you because of your walk in life is not following the call of Christ. We were called to love with our whole hearts. We are all sinners and we are not called condemn others to hell. /rant
Now, all that said. If you, dear reader, or anybody you know is suffering the way that Evan did, please reach out for help. Your teachers and principals want to help. Your school counselor. A preacher. Any friend. The police. There are help lines. And if you are suffering and you need help, please email me and I will personally find you someone to help. This is important to me. You are too beautiful to hurt. You are too beautiful to have to go through something like that. I hope you understand how important this is to me.
The Dangerous Art of Blending In is one of my favorite books I have ever read. It reminds me why I love reading. I get to experience different worlds, different lives, different existences every day. Books like this remind me what it is to be human and that we’re all here, hurting and fighting and surviving together. I love this book with the same ferocity I love Eleanor & Park, Carry On, and Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda which is the highest praise I can offer any book.
The Dangerous Art of Blending In goes on sale January 30, 2018. Reserve your copy today. I promise you will thank me later.
Plucky’s rating? 5/5 Starts
The Plucky Reader