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Review: Two Tribes – Fearne Hill

Two Tribes - Fearne Hill

Genre: Contemporary

LGBTQ+ Category: Gay

Reviewer: Ulysses, Paranormal Romance Guild

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About The Book

It’s 1995, and troubled seventeen-year-old Matt Leeson harbours three passions: indie music, wartime history, and the posh boy he sits next to in maths class.

Not in that order. One of those passions is closely guarded, along with a few other secrets Matt tucks away. Such as his abusive father, the cramped run-down flat he calls home, and the futility of his dreams to escape both.

Twenty-five years later, and plodding Dr Alex Valentine, recently divorced, is looking back on a life less lived. On his failed marriage and the dull bore he’s become, on the empty, lonely weekends stretching ahead. And, in a corner of his mind, wondering what could have been, if only a slender, raven-haired young man hadn’t so abruptly vanished all those years ago.

First love. Teenage love. It should be nothing more than an opening chapter, right? A short prologue even, before the real test of adulthood begins.

But what if that chapter never closes?

Written with a light touch but please be kind to yourselves and observe trigger warnings for: death of a secondary character, depression, domestic abuse (off page), self-harm (off page), attempted suicide (off page)

The Review

What starts out like a classic YA story expands into a three-part, emotionally-charged saga about the lives of two young men, whose worlds intersect for a brief time, changing them both forever.

Matt Leeson and Alex Valentine are both seniors (sixth formers) at St. George’s school in Stourbridge (a town in England known, to me at least, for its glass). The year is 1995, and the UK is locked down in a “don’t say gay” moment caused by Section 28, a national law that forbade the “promotion of homosexuality” in any way in UK schools. The author makes a point of this, because this politically-motivated reality insured that young people in the UK who would struggling with their sexual identity would have absolutely no support during their formative years in the educational system. 

Matt and Alex, however, have other issues as well. They are from different tribes. Matt is working class, lives in public housing; while Alex is the child of a well-to-do dentist who lives in the green suburbs. Their paths only cross because of maths class—something at which Matt excels but Alex does not. 

So far, this feels like familiar Young Adult territory; but Fearne Hill has other plans. The three-part narrative starts entirely from Matt’s perspective—a poor boy from a miserable home, whose only real family are his best friends Brenner and Phil. Alex Valentine, all blond and athletic, whose family life seems a dream to Matt, is like a fairytale knight in shining armor. Alex can no more understand Matt’s worldview than he can imagine the neglect and cruelty of Matt’s homelife. 

The second part of the book is set a decade later, and the perspective alternates between Matt and Alex. The author gives us a side-by-side comparison of how these still-young men have fared, each separated by his tribe into a reality that—but for their having met each other as teenagers—would have gone unquestioned. Neither young man is happy, and neither have forgotten their short time together. 

The last part is fifteen years further on, and is the only reason I survived reading this emotionally intense and sometimes distressing story. It is, this time around, all from Alex’s point of view, and deftly weaves together all the ragged ends of these two now-middle-aged men’s lives. 

Fearne Hill does a great job of giving us everything about both Matt and Alex, exposing their parallel lives across decades up to the moment when their paths cross again. It is epic, but also intimate. It is heartbreaking (especially to a romantic such as I), but it also feels inevitable, as if this journey had to be made.

In the end, Matt and Alex are still from two different tribes; but each of them knows that and sees past the socially-constructed barriers that separated them in the first place. It’s a testament to the author’s skill that she creates a finale that is plausible, logical, and emotionally mature.

Five stars.

The Reviewer

Ulysses Grant Dietz grew up in Syracuse, New York, where his Leave It to Beaver life was enlivened by his fascination with vampires, from Bela Lugosi to Barnabas Collins. He studied French at Yale, and was trained to be a museum curator at the University of Delaware. A curator since 1980, Ulysses has never stopped writing fiction for the sheer pleasure of it. He created the character of Desmond Beckwith in 1988 as his personal response to Anne Rice’s landmark novels. Alyson Books released his first novel, Desmond, in 1998. Vampire in Suburbia, the sequel to Desmond, is his second novel.

Ulysses lives in suburban New Jersey with his husband of over 41 years and their two almost-grown children.

By the way, the name Ulysses was not his parents’ idea of a joke: he is a great-great grandson of Ulysses S. Grant, and his mother was the President’s last living great-grandchild. Every year on April 27 he gives a speech at Grant’s Tomb in New York City. 

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