“Ready When You Are” by Gary Lonesborough

c.2022, Scholastic PUSH $18.99 245 pages

Loud thunder-booms.

Spiders and snakes. The number thirteen, clowns, cemeteries, and heights. There are a lot of things that you can fear, just as there are a lot of ways you can overcome phobias, if you want. Vanquish those shivers by taking classes, being brave or, as in the new novel, “Ready When You Are” by Gary Lonesborough, you can let someone gently help you.

If he had to admit it, seventeen-year-old Jackson Barley had a love-hate relationship with Christmas.

He loved its traditions, and because it was something out-of-the-ordinary. When hanging out with your mates on the Mish is all you normally do, it’s nice to have the holidays to break up the same-old. But over Christmas break, his Aunty Pam always brought his cousins around and the house was full of little kids. Jackson loved his younger brother and his cousins, but man, could they make a racket!

This year, another thing was unusual: Aunty Pam arrived Christmas Eve with a teenager she was caring for, a boy named Tomas who’d just gotten out of juvie. Of course, Jackson’s mother said that Tomas could bunk in Jackson’s room and that wasn’t cool, not at first. Jackson’s mind was elsewhere: his girlfriend broke up with him for reasons he couldn’t discuss.

For most of his life, he had known that he was “different.” He tried to be like other boys, but it just didn’t work that way and he was afraid to even think about his feelings. And now there was this outlaw kid, another Aboriginal boy like him lying on a mattress in Jackson’s bedroom and oh, Tomas was beautiful.

But Jackson wasn’t gay, or at least he wasn’t ready to be. He wanted a summer with his mates, and girls, but he wanted Tomas to kiss him, too. How could he be true to himself? And what would people think?

There are three main characters inside “Ready When You Are”: Jackson, Tomas, and alcohol. Lots of alcohol, and teenagers who are often excessively drunk, which almost totally mars the sweetness of this novel. Put aside endless Outback parties and repetitous beach forays, though, and you might be charmed by this familiar-not-familiar boy-meets-boy tale.

In placing his novel in an Aboriginal community, author Gary Lonesborough gives U.S. readers a unique setting and immersion in a culture where life feels more relaxed than perhaps they’re accustomed – but yet, coming-out struggles for gay teens still exist.

This leads to a story that, scene-for-scene, is predictible and common in YA romance novels –an aspect the genre’s most fervent readers passionately rely on. They’ll also love Jackson, a boy in a man’s skin who acts responsibly and genuinely, but who’s not yet too self-assured about it. Life through his eyes is the best part of this book.

Though you’ll likely find this novel in the Young Adult section, it’s absolutely appropriate for grown-ups with fond memories of first love. “Ready When You Are” has its lows, but it might also make your heart go boom.

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