Cover of Barefoot in the City of Broken Dreams by Brent Hartinger. Two shirtless hunks embrace in front of a street sign that says Hollywood

About the Book

Title: Barefoot in the City of Broken Dreams (Russel Middlebrook: The Futon Years #2)
Published: 2015

Cover Story: It makes me feel kinda funny, like when we used to climb the rope in gym class.
Drinking Buddy: Let’s Do Lunch, Babe
Testosterone Level: Cools Self Off With Big Frilly Victorian Fan
Talky Talk: We’ve All Been There
Bonus Factors: Ghosts, Scars
Bromance Status: I Know a Guy…

Cover Story: It makes me feel kinda funny, like when we used to climb the rope in gym class.

I’m so absolutely comfortable in my heterosexuality that I have no qualms about reading a book with two practically shirtless hunks embracing on the cover. On my Kindle.

The Deal:

So after years (and books) of Russel and Kevin chasing, denying, dumping, and secretly loving each other, the boys are finally together for good. Now in their mid-twenties, they’ve moved to Los Angeles so Russel can follow his dream of being a screenwriter. He’s got a thousand scripts in his head, just begging to be produced. All he needs in one break. Just one producer who will believe in him (and front him the huge amount of money to make the film). As Kevin and Russel find work, make friends, and explore LA, Russel learns to his shock that the city is full of frustrated screenwriters, actors, filmmakers and other artists, all looking for that big break. And this is a city not known for its kindness and patience.

Also, there’s a lesbian stand up comedian named Gina and her partner, Regina; the ghost of a fifties screenwriter; a teenage brolita who keeps coming on to Russel and Kevin; and Russel’s ex-boyfriend, Otto.

Hey, there’s your script right there.

Drinking Buddy: Let’s Do Lunch, Babe

Two pints of beer cheersing

So Russel quickly learns the harsh truth about becoming a screenwriter in Hollywood. You can’t. It’s not going to happen for you. Never in a million years. Dead end after dead end, Russel becomes increasingly frustrated and difficult to live with (especially since Kevin gave up a good job for the move). We all know how hard those rejections are to take, especially when the bills are piling up and Walmart is hiring.

But wait! Out of the blue, Russel hears from Isaac Brander, an elderly filmmaker. Brander hasn’t make a movie in years, but back in the day he was a force to be reckoned with. And now that he’s old and rich, he wants to make one last film…Russel’s film! Just a pet project, now that he doesn’t have to worry about the box office. But he still knows a lot of old-time celebrities who’d like to work with him again. And he’s gay, just like Russel! How incredibly perfect is this?

Soon Russel is bouncing from scrip readings to auditions to dinner parties. This is really going to happen! And get this, Brander has arranged for the great Shirley MacLaine to star in the movie! Just think of it! Sally Field in Russel’s film!


Russel is torn between the excitement of actually working with this Hollywood legend, and fear that something is dreadfully wrong. None of the promised money is appearing and Russel only gets the runaround when asked for specifics. And when Kevin starts doubting the project…damn it, this is his big break! Why does no one believe in him?

Anyone who’s ever tried to make it in the arts world knows how easy it is to latch on to the first person who shows any interest, and how heartbreaking that can wind up. I feel for you, man.

Testosterone Level: Cools Self Off With Big Frilly Victorian Fan

So when we first met Russel in Geography Club, he was an awkward teen, still struggling with his homosexuality. In Order of the Poison Oak, he had his first real boyfriend and shared a special summer with Otto. Now, Russel is a grown man with a life partner. He’s not a kid anymore. And when Russel and Kevin are alone after a rough day…

Hartinger doesn’t pull any punches. I’m not talking smut, but this is a lot more explicit than what most of us are used to in YA. It makes that one scene in Looking For Alaska look tame.

Also, there’s, Daniel, the incredibly hot Latin teenager who keeps dropping by to use the boys’ shower, and Otto, who Russel keeps meeting for ‘just friends’ dates. The testosterone is high with this one. Recommend to YA readers, but with caution.

Talky Talk: We’ve All Been There

God, this took me back to my pre-published days. The rejection letters, the friends of friends who might maybe be able to introduce you to a guy, the networking, the sense of futility, the poverty, the realization that you’re never going to make it, not in a million years…

Excuse me a second.

Okay, anyone who’s ever produced a film, written a novel, auditioned for a movie, or sent out a demo tape can relate to this book. Just remember, the only thing worse than having your dreams crushed and destroyed is to abandon those dreams without trying.

Oh, and what the hell happened to Min and Gunther, Russel’s two best friends? They’ve disappeared without a trace.

Bonus Factor: Ghost

Little ghost sugar cookies

So Gina tells Russel that their apartment building is supposedly haunted. He does a little research and it turns out that a guy died in their very apartment in the 1950s. He was a screenwriter too! Doesn’t appear he ever sold anything. And his death…it would seem one night he took a bath and decided to pull his radio in the tub with him.

These parallels weird Russel out, especially when he hears a strange voice one night, warning him not to do something. But what? Trust Mr. Brander? Stay with Kevin? Break up with Kevin? Or does his neighbor just have the TV up too loud?

Bonus Factor: Scars

Scar from the Lion King

Otto is in town trying to make it as an actor. Unfortunately, he has some rather prominent facial scars. No matter how he nails the auditions, the directors simply don’t want to take a chance with a guy with…brown eyes. It’s a hash lesson on how in Hollywood, talent comes second to good looks. Otto would have a better chance of getting cast if he had a perfect face…or huge boobs.

Bromance Status: I Know a Guy…

Yeah, I know a guy who knows a guy in the publishing industry. Had the same probation officer. Give him a call, he might hook you up with a publisher. Hey, is your sequel novel still George Lucas’s coffee table book?

FTC Full Disclosure: I received neither money nor beer for this review (dammit). Barefoot in the City of Broken Dreams is available now.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.