The Sopranos with queer protagonists.
Genre: YA, Thriller, Contemporary, Romance, LGBTIA+
No. of pages: 346
High schooler Matt’s father is rich, powerful, and seemingly untouchable—a criminal with high hopes that his son will follow in his footsteps. Matt’s older brother Luke seems poised to do just that, with a bevy of hot girls in tow. But Matt has other ambitions—and attractions.
And attraction sometimes doesn’t allow for good judgement. Matt wouldn’t have guessed that when he makes a new friend, one who is also carrying a secret. The boys’ connection turns romantic, a first for both. Now Matt must decide if he can ever do the impossible and come clean about who he really is, and who he is meant to love.
‘The Friend Scheme’ brought all the angst and coming out vibes alive on the page. A mob family and a masculine and toxic environment don’t make the best place when Matt starts having feelings for another boy. But Matt is used to keeping secrets – but is it time to start revealing truths in order to get close to Jason… it’s a big decision and Matt with have to dig deep to find the courage if he wants to find love.
There was something about this though that kept me from being fully absorbed into the story; and it took me a while afterwards reflecting on the book to pinpoint what it was… Matt is a member of a criminal family, and this involves murder, a protection racket, and a war with competing family over controlling parts of the city (who deal in drugs). It was how Matt seems to have morals and does not want to be a part of this lifestyle, and yet the hard questions about the consequences, beliefs and integrity of these criminal actions aren’t really addressed. They are mostly in the background or ignored in favour of Matt dealing with his friendships. I felt Matt was so isolated from the reality of his families actions, from the real world that it kept something inside me squirming. I guess I was indignant and wanted him to scream from the rooftops about all the injustice. That by his actions he is complicit in all the corruption and illegal activity.
You can say that he is effectively innocent, and that he doesn’t know any different having grown up in that environment, but I just feel his character is painted in a way that is contra to that life. He was too passive. And in that vein ‘The Friend Scheme’ felt like it was a bit of a fantasy scenario for the sake of the romance.
Even love interest Jason is some too-perfect hunky guy that is chasing after Matt.
All of this does bring up some important themes about organised crime and how Matt is practically held hostage through loyalty, and maybe even the threat of death. There is also a lot of toxic masculinity woven into the family culture that prevented me from really getting into ‘The Friend Scheme,’ half the time I wanted to reach into the book and either throttle or swing an uppercut at the ignorant cast.
All of these things felt a bit triggering about the type of discrimination gay youth have faced.
There is some lovely character development for Matt, but as I mentioned, his role felt passive; this story was so focused on the romance that I felt like his character was done a bit of a disservice. He could have been given a greater opportunity for growth, forming stronger ideals in the face of the extreme challenges his family posed. Plus there was a bit of that privileged white man thing going on – and that privilege, the money they have, was all blackmailed from hard-working family businesses. It’s not easy to deduce that ‘The Friend Scheme’ really had me standing on the soapbox over so many injustices and ignored issues.
I will say that Cale Dietrich has such an endearing writing style, it shows vulnerability and really drags out the feels for the protagonist. I had several moments where my eyes filled with water or I got pins and needles. There are some great little plot twists that kept me engaged too. They weren’t completely a surprise, but definitely a delight.
I was a little conflicted about the attitude of sex around our protagonist. I like how it is sex-positive and safe in nature, but it didn’t feel like it was coming from a built up place of love and affection; more a casual lusty encounter – which for first times, and the angst that was built up didn’t quite ring true for me. Especially for such a romance-centric storyline.
This was a fun read, I would have liked to seen Cale Dietrich tackle some of the heavier issues presented in the narrative through Matts eyes, but other than that it reads like a cute wish-fulfilment scenario that I would happily recommend.
Overall feeling: *bats eyelashes*
© Casey Carlisle 2023. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.