I’ll shamelessly admit that I bought this book entirely based on the protagonist. Cub is (sort of) a YA gay coming of age novel, and it’s central character is Travis, a seventeen-year-old chubby farmers boys. And, basically, he sounds quite hot. So I bought the book. Cub is primarily centred on Travis’ romance with Mike, a muscular, hairy boy from the wrong side of the tracks. There’s some threads of other plot in there – the homophobic school bully, their respective families, Travis’ friends who have gone off to college ahead of him – but they’re driftwood in the river of the story which sweeps Travis and Mike from their first meeting towards the inevitability of going their separate ways as they both try to get out of this town.
Jeff Mann has written a book that is compulsively readable, and–especially for something that seems to be being classed as YA–is constantly bubbling with the erotic (even in ostensibly ‘sexless’ scenes.) It triumphs in it’s presentation of characters that are so downright scarce in literature that I’m tempted to say this is the only instance.
Mike might have an element of archetype to him–the brawler boy who the respectable parents disapprove of–but Mann invests him with life that makes his character breathe and step beyond those initial lines. And as for Travis: he’s a) chubby, b) respectful, especially of his family, c) despite his desire to head to the college city, still in love with the wilds and natural beauty of his small hometown (he doesn’t want to run away–he wants to go away, be educated, and come back and own a farm with the love of his life) and d) invested in Wiccan beliefs (which are, wonderfully, shown as wild and pure, not entirely misrepresented in a lazy Hollywood manner.) I think, to be honest, I’m a little bit in love with Travis. (Okay. A lot. Fine.)
The book feels like more of a snapshot – the tensions of the bullying or family’s reactions are present but not particularly concentrated on – but Travis and Mike’s romance feels real and exciting. The passion is thrilling – both emotionally and sexually – and although I felt mildly disconcerted at the speed with which their initial innocence was overcome and we were into rope bondage territory, come the final chapter I was overwhelmingly attached to Travis and Mike, rooting desperately for their romance. And, of course, any of us with a little worldly wisdom will be able to imagine the ghostly chapters after this book closes, but that’s just another bit of power to the punch, elegantly drawn up by the closing remarks of a wise drag queen.
An excellent addition to my collection of gay lit, and given the, er, vividness of the sex scenes in the book, I might have to go take a gander at some of Mann’s explicitly erotica books. For research purposes, you understand.