CRANBERRY BOYS – Watermarsh Tales #1 by Scudder James Jr.
LGBTQ+ YA, Contemporary
Sixteen-year-old Zeph’s junior year of high school isn’t the greatest. Yes, he’s on the cross-country team with his friend Connor, and yes, they “hook up” any time they can, but those are things on the surface. Much deeper down, things aren’t quite so rosy, especially when his religious zealot parents find out he’s gay, and when his best friend Bronson returns from boarding school.
Watermarsh is a small town once renowned for its cranberry bogs, but now, it’s just a small town with not a lot going for it except secrets—a lot of secrets. Zeph’s father runs a road-repair business and his mother is heavily into her church—the kind of church where you don’t have gay sons. When Zeph comes out to his parents, they refuse to accept that. So they reach an agreement with Zeph. He doesn’t have to attend church (which he hates) as long as he doesn’t come out to anyone else and embarrass his mother. Their uncomfortable agreement lasts for a while. What they don’t know is that Zeph’s friend and teammate, Connor, and Zeph meet quite often, and not for team sports.
But Connor isn’t okay with being out. Not like Zeph. Zeph is his dirty little secret. Then Zeph’s old friend Bronson comes back from boarding school and Zeph discovers what life could be like if he wasn’t someone’s secret. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it sounds.
This was a story full of the usual teen angst plus the added issues of being gay or bi, religious zealots, small town gossips, and suicide (a very small part of the story but it’s talked about as in the past). The author does a decent job of showing us Zeph’s issues and how he handles things. And there’s a definite HEA that satisfies completely.
One thing I absolutely loved – and laughed over—was the author’s use of non-swearing swear words for the coach (get your aspirin over here!). It’s a shame that only lasted for a page. The humor was a nice break from all the angst.
One thing that didn’t work for me… was that it was a little slow to get into, but once I did, this was a decent story that came out right in the end. Nicely done.
Recommendations: I would recommend this book—and not just to teens. The characters are well-constructed and believable, the setting works, and the issues are definitely handled well and in a way that makes you believe it could have happened that way. It’s a realistic look into teen life and all the things that can go wrong—or right.