The basic storyline lies in the relationship between two brothers, one gay and one straight, growing up with wickedly abusive and neglectful parents and how the boys find their way to changing their lives. Broader storyline: older brother gets tossed out of house for being gay, lives on the streets until younger brother runs away from home, steals Dad's car, keeps the faith in humanity, his brother, and Aunt Dahlia, the boys' mom's long-lost sister. Let me tell you: it gets ugly before it gets better, but Smith convinces his readers that there are reasons to keep the faith.
I would love to meet this Aunt. She sounds fab, fab, fab. Her ways of inviting relationship is dreamlike to me, with consistent kindness of course but even more with this centered, balanced, unwavering presence. I mean she never apologizes for her actions: granted, she doesn't need to but it just isn't part of her vocabulary (unless, I am sure, there is a real reason to apologize). She doesn't apologize for how awful her sister is, how bad the boys' lives have been, how she wishes she could do more. She never comes from a place of 'poor me' or 'poor boys'. She is just flat-out authentic all the time: what you see is what you get. Who wouldn't love that in an adult? I don't want to give all of the story away, but she is just one reason why I loved this book. Stark, nicknamed Stick, is the centerpiece of the story which is told through his voice. His vision and his compassion are of course remarkable, particularly given the parents he has been dealt. The way the author develops his characters is rich, and the way he told the story kept me engaged throughout. The only parts I didn't like were the teen-boy-sex-drive- exploration parts, which never have engaged me in young adult books. But the way Smith ties this into the story seems pretty realistic. The author's decision to include this in the book was an important decision for the story, and I can't imagine it not all being in the story. And, truth be told, even though I feel complete license to skip over the sexual parts I am not interested in reading, I didn't skip too much in Stick. The story was that realistic to me.
Stick is one of those books where I feel fortunate to have read it. I will definitely be recommending this to my interns at school and to readers who are interested in a coming of age novel focused on teen boys finding their own integrity. It was a great read.