Title: Titanic Summer
Author: Russell J. Sanders
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Release Date: March 6, 2018
Genre(s): Young Adult
Page Count: 262
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Read book blurb here
Titanic Summer is a mixed bag, with a plot that encompasses history involving the Titanic, HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance), coming of age, coming out, transgender, the religious right, etc. and while I loved many of the elements of the story, I really struggled with the main character, Jake.
Jake lives with his mother in Houston and spends two weeks each summer with his father, a hotel manager of an upscale hotel chain. When Jake arrives in Philly for his yearly visit at the hotel, his father instead takes him to Halifax, Nova Scotia, the final resting place for 150 passengers from the Titanic. The Titanic has been a life-long obsession for his father and as they explore the graveyard, Jake begins to understand his father's passion for the ill-fated Ship of Dreams.
Jake has a big secret - he's gay, living in Texas, going to a private Christian high school that states “Following the teachings of our Lord, no student shall profess to be leading, or publicly supporting, the gay lifestyle.” Also, Jake's mother is the secretary in a large evangelical church that is very anti-gay and strongly opposed to the Houston Equal Right Ordinance (HERO) coming up for a vote. Jake holds his secret close, but in Halifax, Jake learns a few secrets that his father is holding close, and Jake is unable to forgive his father. He returns to Houston and becomes embroiled in opposition to HERO, and meets Finn, an intriguing neighbor and his cousin Alex.
I really enjoyed the story up to this point, liking how the author uses the Titanic as the means for understanding greater truths, and intrigued by Jake's relationship with his father, whom he clearly loves, but just will not forgive. At this point, I would give the book a very solid 4 stars.
HOWEVER ... that part about Jake not forgiving and forgetting? Unfortunately, the remainder of the story relies heavily on Jake's angst, anger, pure meanness at points, and inflexibility while desperately denying himself. It's "Pity, Party of One" for far too long, IMHO. After Jake fails his driver's test, he thinks:
I kept my eyes glued to the rear-vision camera screen as I slow-paced it back to the DMV. If I’d let myself, I’d have bitten the woman’s head off. But it wasn’t her fault I’d failed. It was mine. No, it was Finn’s. It was Dad’s. It was the fucking gays. All of ’em. All the gay guys in the whole wide shitty world. Why did God make them? Why did he make me?This sentiment, and variations thereof, are repeated time and again, and I eventually wearied of Jake's anger and unwillingness. But, there is redemption and finally self-awareness and acceptance, but after a major portion of the book dwelling on Jake's self-hatred and outwardly directed hatred, for me personally, it was too late and too brief. I would give the later part of the book 2 stars.
Ultimately, my rating for Titanic Summer is 3 stars. I absolutely loved Sanders' novel All You Need Is Love and would definitely read more of his work, but this book did not work for me.