Cover of Look Past by Eric Devine. An androgynous white face is partly covered by the title and author's name

About the Book

Title: Look Past
Published: 2016

Cover Story: See No Evil, Speak No Evil…
Drinking Buddy: Yes
Testosterone Level: Creepy
Talky Talk: Real Life, Amped up a Notch
Bonus Factors: Awesome Family, Whodunnit
Bromance Status: Buds

Cover Story: See No Evil, Speak No Evil…

Not only does the cover jibe with plot points of the book (see below), I like the androgynous nature of the model. Is this supposed to be Avery or Mary? A case could be made for either.

The Deal:

Mary Mathison is dead. Brutally stabbed to death. Mary, the beautiful, perfect reverend’s daughter. Mary, who was not only killed, but mutilated.

Mary, Avery’s ex-girlfriend.

Avery hasn’t had an easy life. He’s transgender, and has made the difficult transition to living as male. He has the support of his family and some good friends. And for a while, he had Mary.

Until Mary’s father caught them together.

Now, Avery is determined to find out who did this horrible thing. But it seems the murderer wants to find Avery as well. He starts receiving disturbing texts from the killer. Mary was killed because of her relationship with that abomination. She paid the price for her unnatural relationship. And Avery is going to be next. Unless he repents. Unless he gives up his hard-fought male identity and starts living as a girl. We’re talking dresses, pigtails, the works. And he he’ll have to go to church–Mary’s father’s homophobic church–and beg for forgiveness. Because if he doesn’t, he’s next. And not just Avery, but his new girlfriend Beth, his friend Charlie, and his family.

The clock is ticking, the suspects are numerous, and parts of Mary keep showing up around town. And the murderer is watching. Always watching…

Drinking Buddy: Yes

Two pints of beer cheersing

Avery is a tough-as nails, cigar chewing dude, who’ll bust your face if you insult him or his friends. His parents, his uncle, and his girlfriend accept him as a guy.

But Avery also has breasts. Before he took testosterone, he had a period. Half the people in town, especially those in Rev. Mathison’s church, think Avery is a pervert. Like many transgender people, Avery finds himself defending himself just for existing. And now someone has decided that Avery deserves to die. Just because of who he is.

I wish I could say this was a ficticious situation.

Testosterone Level: Creepy

This was a hard core book, but like Devine’s other books, this was some dark, dark stuff. When Rev. Mathison found about about his daughter and Avery, he took the belt to her sinful hide. People in town–powerful, important people–state that they would rather Avery have died instead of Mary, and that they can kind of see where the killer is coming from. Avery comes home to find his ex-girlfriend’s lips sitting on his mother’s flowerpot.

And the killer somehow knows Avery’s every move. To the extent that he’s live tweeting Avery’s private conversations. Just who the hell is this? The reverend? Calder, Mary’s asshole new boyfriend? Or is it someone closer to Avery? Someone he trusts?

Talky Talk: Real Life, Amped Up a Notch

Unfortunately, violence against transgender people is nothing new, including murder. Yeah, most of those cases aren’t as high profile as the one in Look Past, but society often looks at genderfluid people as a joke. More than one person has beat a murder rap by using the trans-panic defense (I kissed her, then found out she had a penis. So I had to slash her throat).

Avery, who’s been told repeatedly that he’s disgusting and should die, now realizes someone is about to make good on that threat. He’s torn between his own safety and his own identity. He’s wracked with guilt about what happened to Mary, but he’s protective of Beth, his new girlfriend. Beth wants to stand by him, but maybe not at the expense of her life. And why’s he still so hung up on Mary, anyway?

Now this wasn’t a perfect book. Avery tends to clock every guy who insults him (though that Verizon clerk had it coming). His uncle is on the police force, and Avery is allowed to accompany him so often, I was worried he’d jeopardize the case. And it would have been nice to have at least one religious character who wasn’t a hateful zealot.

But one doesn’t read Eric Devine to feel good about life. This was dark, gritty and topical. I enjoyed it.

Bonus Factor: Awesome Family

7 family members of all ages in a group hug

Despite Avery’s problems, familial rejection is not one of them. His parents respect his identity, as does his uncle Tom, the police officer. And Tyler, his wise ass, 8th grader brother, who just wants Avery to be safe. But when the killer lays down the threat of ‘dead manly Avery vs. live girly Avery’, even those closest to him wonder if he could kind of change who he is. Just for a little bit. To stay safe.

Bonus Factor: Whodunnit

Sherlock, from the TV show of the same name, looking surprised

I just have to say, I did not see the ending coming. Classic Scooby Doo moment, if Scoob and the gang investigated violent, hate-inspired murders.

Bromance Status: Buds

I enjoyed reading you. Which is not to say you didn’t also upset the hell out of me as well. Can’t wait to read the next thing from Eric Devine, which will probably be about a teenager who gets flayed alive on prom night.

Full disclosure: I received a free e-copy of the book months ago, when I was asked to write a blurb for this (you’ll notice my name is on the cover). Then, when the book came out, both the publisher and the author sent me a copy. I hope this doesn’t make you question this review, because this was a truly compelling, disturbing book.

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.