The last of the three novellas that comprise the Talker series was up for review, but I can’t review just Talker’s Graduation without referencing the first two stories, because essentially, this is one book, broken into three sections. Normally, that would irk me, because if a story is as continuous as this one is, it should be in one book, not a series of novellas. But this case is an exception. Each of the stories has its own tone, its own identity, and I really don’t think they would have worked as a single volume. Each should be read and savored separately.
And I do mean savored. Amy Lane is brilliant at constructing characters that you actually care about, characters that are real and flawed and lovable. Every one of them has a distinct voice, and we get two in Tate Walker, nicknamed “Talker” because he never shuts up, and Brian, his quiet, shy foil. All three stories are told with multiple flashbacks between present day and the past.
We ride along with Brian as he meets Talker in the first book; his quiet, shy, home-schooled self taken aback by the tattooed, Mohawked stranger who sits beside him on a bus headed for a track meet. Tate Walker is the “weird kid”—the one that doesn’t walk to a beat of a different drum, but is the different drummer. He’s twitchy, nervous, and talks constantly to drown out the noise in his head, when he’s not humming or singing snatches of music. He’s also horribly scarred, both inside and out. The tattoos hide the outward scars; the talking hides the inward. From everyone but Brian. “Talker” is from Brian’s POV, and the pivotal traumatic event in this book is something that happens to Tate, and it’s Lane’s genius that makes the trauma even more horrific experienced at one remove, so to speak. It’s not Tate’s emotions that drive the story, but Brian’s—shy Brian, who can’t express his feelings for his roommate until it’s too late, and who then has to deal with the crushing guilt his inability has triggered. He does it in a way that is completely in character, both in his response to Tate’s trauma and in his own coming out.
“Talker’s Redemption,” on the other hand, is told from Tate’s point of view, and the pivotal part of that story is a trauma to Brian that is a direct result of Brian’s dealing with Tate’s attacker. An important secondary character is introduced in the persona of the boys’ therapist, and their sessions are interwoven with the linear narrative of the story, maintaining a stability that could easily go off track with Talker’s point of view. Talker’s head is a freaky place to be; his attention span is nonexistent, his train of thought easily derailed (in the third book, Lane gives him a metaphor that’s lovely—his thoughts are like fish in a school, easily scattered, and he has to concentrate to get them all back in the fishbowl). Tate needs to learn to accept what happened to him, accept what happened to Brian, and move on, and it isn’t easy.
The final book in the series, “Talker’s Graduation,” deals with both of the boys’ rehabilitation—Brian’s physical, Talker’s emotional—and their growth as adults and as partners. There isn’t any great trauma in this story, but small ones, which can sometimes be more destructive to relationships. Tate is again the point of view in this one, and it’s probably necessary, because he is by far the more dramatic of the two characters, and the small things that drive the narrative here are things that affect him far more deeply than they would Brian, or that Brian would be able to effectively communicate.
I enjoyed all three of these stories immensely. The only small, niggling thing that bothers me is that the constant, back and forth switching—particularly in the last book—sometimes gets confusing. The flashbacks are mostly in italics, which definitely set the flashback apart from the linear text, but are sometimes hard to read for extended periods. And within the flashbacks, it’s sometimes a little difficult to tell exactly where in the past the flashback is occurring. This is a risk that one takes when switching between time as much as is done here. But on the whole, the stories are compelling, beautifully angsty, and the characters will stick with you for a long time.
Highly recommended. Buy link