Jo is a little eccentric. He loves Walt Whitman’s poetry and wears vintage clothing, including wool suits, everywhere. The explanation for why he loves such clothing, even when it may make him a bigger target, is beautiful. He is out and has no interest in hiding that he is gay. He lives with his father, Lyle, who plays bluegrass and often is smoking marijuana, and his older sister, Shayna, who is going through her own big questions- primarily about their mother, who died when they were young but whom they know very little about. Jo is tormented by a group of teens at school, whom he calls the butcherboys, but who use homophobic slurs and really bully him terribly.
Adam is a former high school football star, who always seems to be getting into fights (judging by the bruises on his face). He is repeating his senior year and could play football, but he quit for some mysterious reason (which we learn later). He lives with his mother and his uncle (who is also his stepfather) and works at the family business of roofing. He has two brothers who are older and have moved out but are still nearby- Mark, a veteran, and Sylvan, who also works at the roofing company. Adam is a complex character that starts as reticent (not quite the open book that Jo is) and builds slowly throughout the novel.
The romance is beautiful, as are the letters exchanged. Both characters felt so real to me that I felt like I could meet them in real life. While the letters may not be fully in line with something teenagers would write, I could believe in them for the story, and many were needed to fully flesh out the story. Adding to that, the letters became therapeutic for both characters in a way to express themselves more fully than they could while in person or through spoken language, and this has some added value of making them more insightful and reflective/pensive.
This book absolutely captivated me, broke me down, and left me with a massive book hangover. While there were certainly things that were not my favorite, it was a powerful story and sends some heavy messages. I would add content warnings (and some of these might be spoilers) for explicit sexual content, domestic violence, PTSD, drug use and abuse, and hate crimes/violence.
This book. I feel almost incoherent in how I feel about it, but I highly recommend picking it up for yourself. I am still thinking about it and feeling about it, and it’s amazing. I don’t want to give all the details to avoid spoiling it, but I highly recommend if you want a book that will reach your soul. This is an absolutely gorgeous and wonderful book with characters who I would love to know.