Book Reviews

Secrets of the Other Side by Eric Gober at Regal Crest

Genre Contemporary / Young Adult / Gay Romance
Reviewed by Jamie Deacon on 08-May-2013

Book Blurb

Neil Ostwinkle is growing up in a Las Vegas trailer court where he realizes early on that he'd rather marry the Professor, not Mary Ann or Ginger. He prefers Aunt Louise's colorful makeup kits to drab green army men, and he swaps clothes with his best bud Rebecca Mooney because her silky dresses feel like magic on his skin. But in school he learns that being different has frightening consequences and keeps his desires secret.

Neil can't understand why his mom, Ellen, shackles him with one bad stepfather after another. She marries and divorces a mooch, a two-timer, and a pyromaniac. When he hits puberty, he learns you can't always keep your heart from going wild. Or stop your heart from breaking. His first relationships are traumatic, but when Neil meets Clark Martin at a Halloween party, he grabs hold of him tight. Finally, he's convinced love is here to stay, only to discover that AIDS may steal Clark away from him. With help from friends and from Aunt Louise, Neil fights a bitter battle on Clark's behalf. Neil summons help from unusual friends like Jacaranda "Jackie" Stump, a king-sized drag queen with dreams of being a Hollywood wardrobe artist who becomes a friend for life.

Will Neil find and keep love? He comes of age in the Eighties and Nineties, a tumultuous time for a young gay man. Will he be able to make a life of his own when he's battling societal prejudice, family strife, loss, and marriage inequality?


Book Review

Every so often I’ll pick up a book that truly captures my heart and sparks my imagination, and this remarkable debut novel by Eric Gober is one of them. Masterfully written, it follows Neil Ospwinkle as he negotiates an unconventional upbringing, endures the heartache of his teenage years, and sets out as a young adult to pursue his ambition to become a make-up artist. I quickly fell in love not only with the distinctive style, but with the quirky characters and the colorful craziness of Las Vegas where the story is set.

For a boy like Neil, sensitive and extremely artistic, his is a rough childhood. Raised on a run-down trailer park on the outskirts of the city by a flighty mother and a string of unsuitable stepfathers, he has never met his real dad. It becomes apparent early on that Neil isn’t like other boys his age. He has no desire to kiss a girl, and infinitely prefers playing with his Aunt Louise’s make-up to tinkering with car engines. At school, however, he knows he must keep these differences buried deep inside, or else end up the victim of ridicule and bullying.

In love, it seems Neil is fated to be as unlucky as his mother. Throughout his adolescence, he gives his heart away time and time again, only to have it broken. Then, while working a casual job as a waiter as he searches for his big break, he meets Zach, a geeky college student with an easy-going nature and big dreams of his own. Finally, Neil dares to hope he has found his soul mate. But even as he is dazzled by the opportunities for aspiring make-up artists beckoning him from Los Angeles, Zach longs for the relative peace and tolerance of his native Toronto. Neil must decide what is most important to him, or risk letting happiness slip through his fingers.

This is an unforgettable coming of age novel that paints a vivid and often bleak picture of the challenges faced by a young gay man growing up in the '80s and '90s. Though Gober touches upon a whole range of issues, from school bullying and domestic abuse, to marriage inequality and AIDS, he does so in a way that is always relevant and never once feels contrived. The strength and determination Neil shows throughout is a true inspiration, and I know his story will stay with me for a long time.

For anyone in search of a mature young adult read written with depth and unflinching honesty, which will take you on an emotional journey of love, loss and self-discovery, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.





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, 252 pages
Heat Level
Publication Date 08-March-2013
Price $10.58 ebook/Kindle, $13.74 paperback
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