“Coming to terms with incest is not easy. Learning to be a survivor, not a victim, gives new meaning to life” ― Lynette Gould
Billy’s Bones was the first book by Jamie Fessenden I had read. I saw the disclaimers about it maybe bringing up painful memories of childhood sexual abuse, of which I am a survivor. I made the choice to commit to reading and reviewing it anyway. I am grateful that I did. While Mr. Fessenden loosened the reigns I have tightly held on the memories of some of my more painful experiences, he made me feel even more empathy for Kevin than for myself. I channeled my pain and cried and cried. I don’t want to give Billy’s Bones any more therapeutic credit than it deserves, it is a novel, not a self-help book. I am sure some survivors could read Kevin’s horrifying story and spiral down into a deep place. For me, it was cathartic to cry for another little boy, also for the little boy left behind and the man he has, and is trying to, become. I am tearing up now, just thinking about Kevin and Billy.
Although he is the title character, Billy is not one of the main characters in Billy’s Bones. They are Tom and Kevin. Tom is a therapist to whom Kevin is sent after attempting suicide when he finds out his wife is pregnant. They have one session and Kevin never contacts Tom again.
Three years later, Tom buys a new house and the hot tub needs repairs he just can’t afford. The electrician gives him the name of a friend and handyman who does this type of work on the side. The name is Kevin Derocher. At first, Tom & Kevin act like they don’t remember each other, but it soon comes up that they do. They develop a close friendship. Man to man not man to therapist. Kevin’s wife has since divorced him and is in love with someone else, but remains close friends with Kevin.
As Tom & Kevin become “friends” the sexual undertones to their relationship can’t be denied. Kevin is hyper-sexualized, a symptom of many survivors of childhood sexual trauma. Tom is gay and believes that Kevin is, too, on some level. Kevin isn’t out even to himself. Any sexual touch not initiated by him sends him into a panic attack. Tom recommends that Kevin see his business partner for therapy after a particularly violent panic attack.
There was recently a discussion on another author’s blog regarding the “need” readers have for sex between their MCs. This book is a perfect example of why we don’t need our MCs to have sex. While Billy’s Bones is a romance, it is equal parts mystery, psychological thriller and bromance. The tenderness with which Fessenden treats Kevin (using the character of Tom to do so) is deeply moving. It is a human being caring about another human being in pain. Yes, Tom may benefit if Kevin gets to the source of the memories he can’t access but still reacts negatively to. But Mr. Fessenden proves that getting lucky isn’t Tom’s main motivation. He is frustrated to be in a loving relationship without the sexual aspect that would normally go with it. But he cares about Kevin the man enough to want to help him remember and heal any way he can, regardless of how it affects himself.
The memories uncovered and the callous way in which Kevin’s mother treats those memories and her son made me want to puke, then slap her. Maybe even puke on her. That is my own bullshit because my mom was a lot like that. I’ll cop to a very visceral reaction to that particular part of the book. I am still glad I read it though.
I realize after mulling this review over a bit that I kind of made Tom sound like he had super-human patience. This is not the case. He is portrayed as more patient than most, and incredibly supportive, but definitely human. Tom was frustrated at not being able to be sexual in any way with his partner. He got angry at Kevin for not seeking the help he so obviously needed. He was not some kind of mutant with no needs. He definitely had needs, some of which Kevin was able to meet, others which Kevin couldn’t meet at the time.
Mr. Fessenden treated the subject matter and the victim so tenderly, almost lovingly, that it made me feeling some bad stuff not so bad. I think it took balls to take on a subject so difficult to write about. I don’t know Mr. Fessenden’s personal history, but if he hasn’t experienced childhood sexual trauma and it’s aftermath, he is a deeply insightful and empathetic human being. This book deserves well more than five stars. It IS an emotional read. It is also so satisfying.
Recommended in the highest way possible.
Reviewed by: Tina