I haven’t done a book review for a while! Time for one …
Great characters, great situation, great potential; shame about the middle.
This short story by Aidan Chambers has been on my to be read list since the French film Summer of ’85 was released last year. I’m always an advocate of reading the book before the film adaptation but, in this case, I’m glad I attacked this the other way around.
Dance on my Grave follows the story of Hal, a boy from Southend-on-Sea who gets into difficulty sailing. He is rescued by Barry, who swoops into Hal’s life, completely changing it. Barry offers Hal a job and a friendship that Hal hasn’t had before. Hal is adored by Barry’s mother and the relationship grows.
As they grow closer, and Hal develops stronger feelings for Barry, things happen. Irreversible actions which show Barry’s nature for swooping through life but Hal’s determination to stick at one thing. Of course, the two are not compatible and inevitably, things go wrong.
The author, Aidan Chambers, has done a wonderful job of creating two well-rounded, clever, competing characters with a supporting cast that do their jobs perfectly. Hal’s voice, the narrator of the story, is strong and believable. Barry’s is equally as strong and told through Hal well.
I am slightly biased in my love for the setting of this book: Southend. I have spent many a happy summer (and winter!) day at this rather typical British seaside resort: an instant connection for me.
Like Barry and Hal’s relationship, however, not all is rosy with this Chambers’ story.
While we have excellent characters and the author has placed them together in an excellent scenario, there is something lacking in the middle. The plot has great potential (no spoilers here) but it is all too quickly glossed over to race toward the ending. I’m a fan of a fast-paced story but not at the expense of the plot.
There’s a lot missing: which is a massive shame. It would be fun to dive deeper into Hal and Barry’s relationship: to explore their summer together and to discover the glue that keeps them together, especially given their apparent polar opposite natures.
But the story rushes through this in favour of an ending that leaves more questions than it answers.
Dance on my Grave is part of series of six, standalone stories written by Chambers to explore teenage love and self-discovery. The book I bought has the first, Breaktime, but I chose to read the second because the film had been so moving. I don’t think I will be in a hurry to read the first or the subsequent stories of this sequence.
It’s not all bad. If you’ve seen the film (and if you haven’t, you must!), the book will fill in a few gaps, particularly around characterisation. But Summer of ’85 captures the essence of this book beautifully and the cinematography is sublime. Do not, as a result of this book review, skip the film! You’ll be missing out!
Maybe the author was nervous about writing a gay romance? Maybe he was unsure of its reception? Maybe … Maybe … If only … Such great potential for an outstanding gay romance book lost.
Nick (he/him) is an editor and proofreader, specialising in LGBTQ+ writing. He is an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and a member of PEN, the Professional Editors Network.
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