Micah Johnson Goes West, by Sean Kennedy
Series: Get Out, Book #2
Publisher: Harmony Ink (Dreamspinner Press)
Release Date: March 4, 2017
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Sequel to The Ongoing Reformation of Micah Johnson
Micah Johnson is living two separate lives. On the field he’s making a name for himself as a rookie with the AFL football team the Fremantle Dockers—at just eighteen. But when he steps off the field, Micah is a mess: confused, away from home for the first time, and feeling isolated from family and friends three thousand kilometres away. The foster family he’s staying with is nice, but Micah isn’t ready to open up to them about what he’s going through. Distracting himself with hookups and partying seems like a good idea until a friend’s life is changed by misfortune and Micah’s own health is threatened by his behavior. Micah knows he has to make a change, that he can’t do it alone, and that maybe there’s no shame in reaching out to others.
Cover Artist: Catt Ford
Sports (Australian Football League)
Coming of Age
A little bit of a disclaimer before I get into the review: Sean and I are friends of sorts, but I try to not let this color my reviews of his work. If anything, when I read my friends’ works I’m a little harder on them, because I have higher standards. I enjoyed his books before we started talking, and I hope this doesn’t put anyone off reading them because I really think they are worth the read.
If you go back through some of the reviews I’ve done for queer YA books in the past, you’ll see that I’ve been super disappointed in the majority of them. I am a straight woman and I had a hard time growing up, so I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for kids who don’t have representation in books to learn how to get comfortable with themselves.
I feel like this is such a good YA book, and I think that it will help a lot of kids who are struggling with their place. While I really enjoyed the first book in the Micah series, I think that Kennedy was holding back a bit in terms of his struggles. I also think this is an unfair criticism, because you don’t need every book to be a dramarama filled angst fest to be considered good. What I’m trying to say here is this is a really strong YA novel that tackles hard topics.
Kennedy has Micah go through some really tough issues, and I think the way that he handled them shows respect for what the youth goes through when they are trying to deal with their own sexualities on top of transitioning to adulthood. He didn’t sugar-coat anything, and he didn’t let Micah get away with not dealing with his issues. I can’t speak for queer teens, but I can see how this would be relatable for them.
Micah’s problems are a little bit specific because he’s the only openly gay player in a major sport, but Sean parallels his struggles with another character in the book. I’m not going to name names because it would be a spoiler, but I feel like this is such a credit to the book that I need to mention it to give it props.
Micah has grown a lot since the first book and I think that character development is one of Kennedy’s strengths. He did a great job of this in the Tigers and Devils series, and now he’s continuing that with this series. I don’t think good YA writers get enough credit for creating believable teenage characters with realistic personalities and character development. It’s really hard to get the voice right, because there is the tendency to make them sound too mature/immature, and this undermines the vulnerability of this age bracket. I think Kennedy is spot on with Micah’s vulnerability and uses it to show how Micah is a dumb kid sometimes, but also how he’s growing into his burgeoning adult identity.
Although Micah is the star of the show, there are some other youthful characters that I feel are written well and important. Dane is is part of the family hosting Micah and Daril is a fellow player, but he is a fellow rookie and is of Aboriginal descent. Both of these players are the same age as Micah, but they also challenge him an and help catalyze his maturity. They are new characters, but Kennedy has a knack of making characters seem familiar. Along with these two we get Emma and Will who were both featured in the last book and who play a prominent role in this one as well. So there are a total of four secondary YA characters that represent women, the LGBTQA+ community, and POC. Micah, Will, and Emma are all gay teens who met at the Get Out camp featured in the first book, and who become closer in this one, and it is nice to see them grow as friends . Unfortunately we don’t get much of Daril in this book, but I’m hoping he becomes more involved in the next book (Kind of like Abe in the Tigers and Devils series).
So far this review makes the book seem pretty heavy but the book isn’t a total downer. It’s a lot meatier and has more obstacles for Micah to overcome, but Micah retains his humor and snarky personality. This has more angst and less drama than a lot of YA books so it’s less gossipy drama and more adult type problems. It’s worth the read.
Side note: do any of you fair readers have a recommendation for any queer novels involving an Aboriginal main character? I know the Bone People by Keri Hulme has Maori characters and is in NZ, but don’t know of any others.
Also if I am using the term Aboriginal when I should be using another one PLEASE let me know. I am unfamiliar with how to discuss this group and do not want to call them the wrong name.
Sean Kennedy lives in the second-most isolated city in the world, thinks there are thylacines still out in the wild, and eagerly awaits the return of Twin Peaks in 2017.
Find him online at http://www.seankennedybooks.com