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The Other Side of the Rainbow

'Correctional' facilities, runaway safe houses, prozzie murders -- Tomas Mournian's Hidden is def. INTENSITY IN TEN CITIES.

The Other Side of the Rainbow

BOOK REPORT for Hidden by Tomas Mournian

Cover Story: The Eyes Are the Window To the Soul
BFF Charm: Yes, Though It May Cost Me
Swoonworthy Scale: 10
Talky Talk: My Stream of Consciousness Has Slippery Rocks In It
Bonus Factor: Diversity, The Underground Railroad, Anita Fixx, Sex Work, Villains, But I'm a Cheerleader!
Anti-Bonus Factor: Annoying Fat Stereotypes
Relationship Status: I'll Gladly Let You Into My Safehouse

Cover Story: The Eyes Are the Window To the Soul

So, I'm not in LOVE with this cover - I'm not going to start dropping broad hints to it about the kind of wedding I'd like to have, or anything - but it stands pretty tall amongst the weeds of half-tilted emo faces and unicorn kisses. Also, Ahmed's eyes on this cover are INTENSE, which might serve as a vague warning to prospective readers about how much CRAZY SHIZZ goes down between the covers.

The Deal:

Ahmed's a young, gay teen who has just been released from the evil, torturous, "Scared Straight" prison that his hypocritical father and heinous stepmother have sentenced him to. Instead of going home with his parents, a sedated, hallucinatory Ahmed sees his chance for escape and takes it.

Soon, he's on the run and taken in by no-nonsense Marci, left to fend for himself in a one-room safe house with seven other gay teenagers hiding out from their parents. The majority of the teens are trapped in that house until they come of age, and they have to deal with bounties placed on their heads, turning tricks to make the ends meet, hiding out from cops and their evil parents, gender identity, HIV, PTSD and, oh yeah, love.

Ahmed has to figure out who he can trust and how he can stay alive, cause not only does he have parents who he's pretty sure want to burn him to death, he also happened to witness the rape and murder of a young male sex worker by a dead-eyed psycho . . . who has now turned his cold, dead eyes on Ahmed.

Can he stay alive? Can he learn to trust anyone ever again? Will the memories of the trauma he endured at the "correction facility" ever fade? Will he win the heart of J.D.? I really hope you guys all pick up this book to find out, but, fair warning, it ain't for the faint of heart.

BFF Charm: Yeah, But It'd Cost Me

At the beginning of the book, I didn't so much want to give Ahmed my BFF charm as I wanted to cuddle him in a blanket, make him some soup, watch some Queer as Folk UK and tell him it's all gonna be okay. He's just so broken and abused, and I want to tuck him into bed and then take a shotgun to the face and nuts of everyone at the Scared Straight Prison for Wayward Gay Teens Whose Parents Need To Get The Fuck Over Themselves.

Then, for a while, as parts of Ahmed began to emerge, I wasn't so sure about handing over my BFF charm. I mean, Ahmed, you've been through a lot, but that's no reason to insult someone for being trans, dude.

But, by around the middle of the book, I began to see the many facets of Ahmed's personality - the scared, broken little boy; the snarly, defensive teen; and the hopeful, thoughful young adult. I'd definitely offer my BFF charm to Ahmed, but I have a feeling that it's going to cost me many sleepless nights spent worrying about his well-being and happiness.

Swoonworthy Scale: 10

Can I have a swoonworthy scale of 10 just for Hammer's abs and ass? Even though he's like 16? I mean, I just want to get that out of the way. Hammer, I know I'm not your type but please do a web show for me.

Moving on to the actual relationship here! Ahmed and J.D. the Pirate's relationship is STEAMY TO THE EXTREME. You guys, Mornian is NOT fucking around here. No little hints about tingly feelings and swoony cartoon hearts, this. We're talking full-on descriptions of the sexola.* But, even though Ahmed and J.D.'s relationship is HOT HOT HOT, I just kept cringing and thinking, "No, baby! He's gonna break your heart! He can't give you what you need! Why can't you date that nice boy from down the street? Oh, sure, he doesn't look like a gorgeous Adonis, but I'm sure his braces will be off soon and then his smile will be just lovely!" Because, J.D.? Is 100% smoking hot T-R-O-U-B-L-E. Not to mention that Kidd, one of the other house residents, is also warm for J.D.'s form, and is NOT the kind of dude you want to piss off.

Still. Very hot. So, so very hot.

*Nothing more explict than you'd read in a slash fanfic featuring the Salvatores from The Vampire Diaries. Um. Not that I have ever read any of those.

Talky Talk: My Stream of Consciousness Has Slippery Rocks In It

So, lots of people LOVE stream of consciousness writing. I'm . . . not one of them. It's not that I don't understand why authors employ this narrative device; I do. It's just that I don't like it as much as I like, say, nouns. Verbs. Dependant clauses. Punctuation. That sort of thing.

Even more frustrating than the syntax is the "teen" speak, which is just a little too much, to be honest. I don't know any teens who talk like Ahmed or his friends, but I know plenty of adults who think that's how teens speak.

That said, Mournain's syntax may have bugged, but his story was compelling and his characters were complex and reminiscent of people I know. Had his story not been as good as it was, I might have been annoyed by the prose; as it was, I raced to the end of the book, holding my breath and hoping everyone would be okay.

Bonus Factor: Diversity

Diversity that isn't diverse just to win an award? Diversity that's there because the actual, real world is diverse? Even better.

Bonus Factor: The Underground Railroad

Lots of disenfranchised people have been using an underground railroad to get to safety. I have friends who got out of communist Romania with the aid of bribes and friends in various places and, of course, Americans learn about the role of the underground railroad in bringing slaves to safety. In this book, it's a modern-day version, linking teens on the run with older adults who skirt the law to try to help them.

(And, yes, up until age 10, I did think the Underground Railroad was an actual rail line that stretched from Georgia to New York, just under the surface of the Earth.)

Bonus Factor: Anita Fixx

Anita, GIRL. I love you. I sort of wanted this book to be called Anita Fixx: The Anita Fixx Story, as told by Anita Fixx. BECAUSE I LOVE YOU SO MUCH! You're tall and hot and even though you've got issues enough to last you a lifetime, you've still got enough time and enough heart and, most of all, enough bravery to help out your fellow houesmates. Also, you KNOW how to work a miniskirt.

Bonus Factor: Sex Work

Sex work may be an odd bonus factor, cause it sure as hell ain't pretty. But one of the things I love about this book is that it doesn't pussyfoot around the issue. Sex work exists, and people become sex workers for a variety of reasons. Some -a few - do it because they want to, and more power to them. The rest do it because the feel they have to. And until we can fix all the reasons why sex work is an option, then we need to be doing a better job by the people who exercise that option. Legalization! Unions! Ending sex trafficing! And hey, maybe for once, we should be locking up the people who HIRE sex workers, and not the sex workers themselves? Just a thought.

Bonus Factor: Villains

One of my main Milk Carton requests for YA are villains. REAL villains, not just mean girls who won't let you sit with them in the caf. The kind of villains who make your blood run cold, the ones who haunt your dreams at night. Blue-Eyed Bob? Y'all, he is straight up CRAZY MENACING EVIL.

Bonus Factor: But I'm a Cheerleader!

Serenity Ridge, the prison, er, reform facility where Ahmed has been sent to get the gay beaten out of him isn't NEARLY as awesome as True Directions. No Ru Paul in tiny shorts humping a garden hose. No make-out sessions with Clea DuVall as Tattle Tale plays on the soundtrack. And, worst of all, no Cathy Moriarty.

This book? Is like the dark, gritty, painful, need-eight-drinks-to-wash-down-the-pain version of that movie.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Annoying Fat Stereotypes

Ugh. I really loved this book, but WHY did I have to read about Marci eating ALL THE FOOD? BREAKING: Not everyone who is fat eats junk food; news at eleven.

Casting Call:

WHY are there no Arab-American actors Of A Certain Age? It's CRAZY. You know what's even crazier? The amount of famous actors/personalities of Arabic decent who have changed their names to make them sound less Arabic. I mean, Casey Kasem! Your name is Kemal! Did you think that wouldn't go over as well on the Top 40?

ANYWAY. Those adorable little boys from The Kite Runner haven't grown up yet, but maybe they'll be teenagers by the time I win the lottery and turn this book into a movie.

Channing Tatum as Hammer

Don't you want to sit in a closet and watch this boy dance? Yeah. ME TOO.

Isis King as Anita Fixx

I think Isis has enough oomph and heart to play the awesomely fierce, but brokenhearted Anita Fixx.

Ashley Fink as Marci

Ugh, I feel about Glee the way I presume parents of smart childen feel when their kids bring home Cs. "Glee," I think. "You're so much smarter than this; why do you insist on being mediocre every week?" But, hey, Lauren Zizes always brings the fierceness and the funny.

Relationship Status: I'll Gladly Let You Into My Safe House

Book, I can tell just by looking at you that you've had a hard life. I'm pretty sure it was a struggle for you to even be published, cause a lot of people aren't ready to be confronted with your truth. And I can almost bet that you'll be banned from most of the schools in America, since god knows the Gay is contagious. You'll probably be trashed and spit upon and burned by people who have even less sense than teeth.

But, I just want you to know, Book, you've always got a place to stay at my house. I've already taken you in gladly, and I'll never let you go . . . unless it's to share you with other people who will love you as much as I do.

Special note from Erin: I thought I should share that this book IS based on several true stories, some of which you can read about in Tomas Mournian's article, Hiding Out, as well as a 20/20 special with Barbara Walters about "correction facilities."

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Kensington Books. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). Hidden is available in stores now.

Erin Callahan's photo About the Author: Erin is loud, foul-mouthed, an unrepentant lover of trashy movies and believes that champagne should be an every day drink. When she isn't drowning in a sea of engineers for whom Dilbert is still uproariously funny, she's writing about books, tv, the cult of VC Andrews and more.
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