“Reality makes a crappy special effects crew.” ― Adam Savage
Title: Special Effect
Author: Russell J. Sanders
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Pages/Word Count: 180 Pages
Rating: 3 Stars
Blurb: Graduating senior, theater lighting wunderkind, and closeted gay, Nick Fortunati volunteers with The Streetwise Players in the dark corners of The Laughton, a creepy old movie palace decorated in Grand Guignol style. But his father wishes Nick would use his intellect and his scholarship to become a biotech engineer and earn a prosperous living for his future family. Nick loves his dad and wants to please him, but he dreams of a career in theater. And he wants a male lover. Unfortunately, his homophobic father won’t approve of either.
When Nick’s at his loneliest, out of the corners of the theater and into his life comes trouble-laden Steve Stripling, a man with little memory of his past other than his name. Meanwhile, Nick’s introduced to the dashing Wash Vitek and is torn between the two men. His situation is further complicated because he doesn’t know if Wash is gay.
Nick resolves to solve the mystery surrounding Steve and help the young man recover his memories, even though by doing so, he risks losing the first love he’s ever found.
Review: The Laughton is a creepy old movie palace decorated in Grand Guignol style. This style is defined as: dramatic entertainment featuring the gruesome or horrible (according to Merriam-Webster). The gruesome in this particular theater is found in the form of gargoyles that surround the inside of the theater and appear to be following one’s every move. At various times throughout history, the Laughton has been a movie theater, a Burlesque house (during which time the dancers painted all the gargoyles with day-glow paint) and currently, a community theater.
This is where we meet Nick Fortunati, a high school senior who volunteers with The Streetwise Players, doing lighting effects. Nick has a couple of things he is keeping from everyone he knows. He is gay. And he doesn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a bioengineer; he wants to follow his dream and major in Theater. Poor Nick, the age old struggle of the young gay man has claimed another victim. I can’t imagine how hard it is to have to keep such a large part of who you are hidden, for fear of losing everything you have ever know. Russell J. Sanders does a really good job of making the reader feel just how torn Nick is about being honest with his father versus being forced into a mold he knows won’t fit comfortably.
Those creepy gargoyles? They aren’t the only strange thing lurking in the shadows of the Laughton. There is Steve. He has no memory of his past and for some reason can’t leave the theater building. Nick falls in love with Steve instantly after their first kiss. This is where the author lost me. I know teenagers fall in and out of love easily and quickly. This was just a little too much for me to believe.
When Nick’s lighting supervisor introduces him to his nephew, Wash (short for Washington), things get more confusing for Nick. He is drawn to Wash but doesn’t know if he’s gay. Plus, he loves Steve. Nick decides to solve the mystery that is Steve’s life. To do this, he takes a figurative trip back in time to interview the employees and performers of the Laughton of old. He is afraid what he discovers will destroy his first love, Steve.
Mr. Sanders has written a book for young adults. I would have to say it may appeal most to pre-teens. It is written in a way that even the least sophisticated teenagers might find beneath their reading level. Most YA M/M novels are enjoyable for older teens and even adults, to a certain degree. I’m not sure what the author’s intent was, but Special Effect is, in my opinion, a book best suited to a pre-teen audience. The story itself has potential to be of interest to older teens and young adults, but as written, it is not a challenging read. A sixteen year old who is on grade level in reading would breeze through it in no time.
If Mr. Sanders had chosen to flesh out the characters some more and beef up the plot instead of making it seem so easy for Nick to solve the mystery, thus doing away with some of the predictability of the plot, I believe it would have much broader appeal. There is no sex in the book. There are kissing and references to sex, but only in the context of Nick wanting to lose his virginity. I don’t think there was even more than a passing reference to an erection. Special Effect is a perfectly age appropriate book for very young teens. That is whom I am comfortable recommending it to.
You can buy Special Effect here: