Book Reviews

Of Gods and Boys by Harry F. Rey at Deep Hearts YA

Genre Gay / Bisexual / Fantasy / Gods/Godesses / Young Adult / Romance / Action/Adventure
Reviewed by ParisDude on 13-June-2024

Book Blurb

Teenager Achilles is fresh out of juvie.

It wasn't even for something he did; he took the fall for a crime committed by his father, a member of the Greek mafia. As hard as prison was for Achilles, being outside is proving even harder. He struggles to reconnect with his former girlfriend Carla while getting his GED and navigating the bizarre parole condition of qualifying for a Greco-Roman wrestling competition. At least his mom, an ardent follower of traditional Greek religion, is there to help Achilles win the favor of the gods with animal sacrifices in the back garden.

When Principal McKenna sets Achilles up with a student tutor, out-and-proud Hispanic math genius Jesús, things start to turn mythical. After saving Jesús from a violent homophobic attack, the Gods want a word with Achilles. With the help of Underworld boatman Charon (in full drag), Achilles' heroic actions spark an epic adventure of mythological proportions that will force Achilles to confront, and defeat, all his many, many demons in order to win what his heart truly desires.


Book Review

After two years in juvie for a crime he didn’t commit, Achilles is finally free again and back at his mom’s. He knows the sword of Damocles is hanging over his head because he’s only on probation. His definite freedom depends on whether he manages to get his GED and whether he qualifies for the Texan Greco-Roman wrestling competition (wrestling was what he did very successfully before being incarcerated). For the moment, though, he needs to readjust to not being in prison anymore. And he soon realizes picking up his former life as if nothing had happened is more difficult than he thought. There’s his not-really-girlfriend-but-shag-buddy Carla, the coolest girl of his high school, with whom he has a hard time reconnecting. There’s his mafia dad, whom he resents for having sent him to prison in his place. There’s uncle Zotos, his wrestling trainer, and wrestling enemy Hector, his cousin, who has always despised him and makes his life pure hell. Last but not least, there’s Jesús, young Latino prodigy, whom his principal pushes in his path so that he can pass those exams that are part of his probation conditions.


What makes everything so complicated is the fact that he notices his reactions to that sweet, unafraid, scrawny kid are not what he ever believed he might feel. First, he likes Jesús, then he likes him some more, and finally, he cannot help but admit that he is falling in love with him. Yet Achilles doesn’t think he’s gay. Is he? Things get weirder still when, one evening, both are flung into a world Achilles knows from his Greek mom’s bedtime stories. They meet Charon, Hades, Persophone, and he suddenly learns he needs to accomplish a heroic mission to be allowed to go on with his life…


As much as I liked the author’s previous books, this one turned out to be a mixed bag for me. It was still a perfect example of Harry F. Rey’s fertile imagination, but maybe this time, there was too much fertility for me. My first observation—the least impacting one—would be that I expected a YA (Young Adult) novel. And this wasn’t it. The main characters felt as un-“teenagey” as the visibly adult actors with whom Hollywood likes to crowd its YA movies. There was also way too much violence, subliminal as well as open, for my taste. More violence (more successful violence, that is) was often shown as the only way to solve violence. I’m no naïve daydreamer; I know that life for many teenagers (not to mention gay teenagers) is fraught with violent situations and that the strongest and toughest are the most likely to survive. But descriptions of violence make me feel uncomfortable, and the way they were used in this book, albeit helpful for plot and character arcs, reenforced the overall feeling that YA wasn’t the genre I would have used. Last but not least, the paranormal twist that shifted the plot into the world of Greek gods came so sudden and in such an unannounced, unexpected manner that I didn’t really get why it was employed. To me, it almost felt like a belated add-on to the original story.


Now, the writing. I’ve always enjoyed the author’s style, but in this book, especially the first half, it was a bit all over the place. Some sentences were so long and winding I struggled to get their meaning; some descriptions were simply overwritten, as if an attempt had been made to cram as many “young slang” words into a phrase as possible. Plus, the use of tenses was a hot mess, hopping from present to past tense without any discernible method. I hope this was merely an oversight in the Advanced Reader Copy I received and that the editor corrected it before the book was released. A lot of body-shaming came into play as well; honestly, that doesn’t distract me too much, normally—even though I guess we’d all prefer to live in a perfect world where a flabby stomach gets the same attention and positive reaction as a six-pack, we can probably agree that that won’t happen anytime soon. The problem I had was that Achilles wasn’t even fat, at least not as I read it. He simply wasn’t as fit, after two years in juvie, as he had been when he had had regular wrestling training sessions. Yet everybody focused on his buff and simply less well-muscled body as if he had doubled his weight. And the repetition of his entourage’s rude sallies became rather unpleasant after a while.


What stood out positively was the one character who saved the book for me— Jesús. He was sweet and innocent, open-minded, fearless, smart, with tons of sass and self-confidence. I admit I wasn’t entirely sold on Achilles, even though I partly understood his annoying passivity and cluelessness, which was a direct consequence of what had happened to him. But Jesús—yes, he was the ray of bright sunshine, of hope, of love that I desperately needed when the plot got too dark for me. I rooted for him from start to finish, unconditionally, and was happy to see I wasn’t the only one. His story with Achilles really made me swoon and melt. He felt genuine, thought-through, and well-constructed in a novel that otherwise almost appeared like a rag rug with odd bits and pieces to me. The last half of the book right after the Hades interlude, with its smoother writing and more palatable character development, finally reconciled me with the book.




DISCLAIMER: Books reviewed on this site were usually provided at no cost by the publisher or author. This book has been provided by the author for the purpose of a review.


Additional Information

Format ebook and print
Length Novel, 281 pages
Heat Level
Publication Date 17-May-2024
Price $0.99 ebook, $18.99 paperback
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