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Book Review: For Mac, by Brynn Stein

Book – For Mac

Author – Brynn Stein

Star rating – ★★★★★

No. of Pages – 245 (11 pages of ads at the end)

Ease of reading – easy to read, except for Liam’s ‘Irish Brogue’

Would I read it again – Yes, but with tissues already at hand.

** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK, BY THE AUTHOR, IN RETURN FOR AN HONEST REVIEW **

This one was almost an even stevens for me, for a while. Equally great things as equally bad things. But, I had to go with my emotions and let them guide this for me.

Truthfully, my emotions made me really angry and sad while reading this and all I can think is that BOTH Mac and Branson have been seriously let down by the adults in their life, until things got so bad that they spiraled out of control. No one cared about how these boys were raised, so Mac never knows that the way he treats Branson throughout his life is wrong.

Plot

First off, it’s in third person. Hallelujah. I’ve found that I much prefer this author when they write in 3rd person, as 1st. So that was a great thing, right off the starting line. Secondly, characters; diverse and different. I’ve never actually seen characters this messed up before, mentally and emotionally.

I’m going to do a quick run down of the plot, just so that you understand a little of what I’m going to talk about later.

We start the story with Branson, who is Mac’s little brother. Mac has raised Branson alone, first because of absent/neglectful parents and then because their parents died in an accident. But the way Mac raises Branson is detrimental to his emotional and mental health. Mac has raised him to be brutally homophobic, despite the fact that Branson exhibits a clear interest in other men. So terrified that the brother he idolises will disown him or hate him, if he comes out as gay, Branson tries very hard not to be. He’s desperate to NOT be gay, for Mac’s safe. He believes that Mac gave up his childhood to raise him, so Branson thinks it’s only fair that he sacrifice his interest in men to repay Mac for everything he’s done.

So that’s what he does. His entire life, he tried to pretend he’s not gay. He has never acted on an attraction, he tries not to look at attractive men and, for a while, he succeeds. Until one night, in his twenties, Mac spots him exchanging a look of interest with another man, in a bar. And that’s when the story takes off. Mac drags him out and into the car, to go home, ranting and raving at him about how he can’t be gay, using all sorts of derogatory terms. They have a screaming match and Mac, in his anger, refuses to fasten his seatbelt. So, inevitably, they have a car accident, and are both injured.

Branson’s injuries are minor, thanks to his seatbelt, but Mac is in really big trouble. And that’s where Branson’s guilt, for being gay, begins to compound. Especially when he meets Liam, Mac’s new full time care nurse.

Characters

Before I give away any more of the plot, let’s look at the characters. These are our main characters, all of whom have their own POV at one time or another.

Branson – the MC of the novel and THE most messed up person I’ve ever read in a novel. But, I understand it and it makes perfect sense, because of his back story. He’s dependent on Mac, naive and very juvenile because of all that he’s been through, but he has an incredible journey through this story.

Mac – I hate, HATE H.A.T.E. him. No question, no doubt, no exceptions. I get why he treated Branson the way he did, but I don’t understand or accept it. There were other ways, there were other people who could have held him back and taught him better, but no one ever did. I may hate him, but I also understand that he was seriously let down by all the adults involved, as well as abused by his father, for something that may never happen.

Andy – I don’t like Andy. Not to the extent where I hate Mac, but he’s definitely a dodgy character, who is a little evil. He makes fun of Branson even when he knows he shouldn’t, he complains about how Mac treated him, but has never done anything about it and sometimes passes off Mac’s treatment of Branson as acceptable or, at least, “Mac being Mac” and trying to take care of him. No. That’s not acceptable. The only good thing is that Andy’s POV really helps us understand Branson’s state of mind a little better and shows us his worst moments, when Branson isn’t quite compos mentis.

Amy – Amy is a little less complicit, but also annoying. She has a lot of opinions and is quite aggressive with Branson, when he least needs it, but insists that she’s doing what is best for him. To me, it’s too little too late and I don’t like her.

Liam – I LOVE Liam, just as much as I love Branson. He really attempts to understand and care for Branson, as much as he cares for Mac. He never pushes, never questions and is always there for the two brothers; he makes everything easier for Branson, without realising what he’s doing. And, with his influence, Branson begins to live for himself instead of for Mac.

I feel so sorry for Branson. He’s had it hard his entire life and just accepts it, because he doesn’t know any different. He accepts that Mac had a right to beat him, to ensure he didn’t end up gay. He accepts that he owes Mac for everything his brother has ‘sacrificed’ to raise him. He does his best to be perfect, in Mac’s eyes, even when it goes against everything he feels. He’s so sure that Mac’s word is God that he’s even afraid of an insinuation that he might be gay, while Mac is lying in a coma. He can’t bear the thought that Mac might hear the claim and believe it. He never blames Mac or tries to be himself; he just does absolutely everything Mac says, because Mac says it, in the hope of making Mac proud.

Even when Liam gets so worried and encourages him to seek help, because of “incidences” where Branson switches off, he can’t stop thinking like Mac. Branson is seriously emotionally screwed up, because of Mac, but he doesn’t even know it and that’s the saddest thing. He’s been brainwashed to believe that “gay” is synonymous with “evil” and, even with Mac in a coma, he can’t escape that thinking. He makes my heart hurt. He’s like this little lost child, so naive and codependent on Mac that he can’t function alone. He lives his life according to what Mac wants, even when Mac isn’t there to tell him what that is.

I don’t understand why Andy and Amy didn’t try harder to save Branson from Mac. They always knew that the way he was being raised wasn’t right or good for him, but never once did they try to intervene or have their parents speak to Mac about how best to raise a child. To me, they were as complicit in everything Branson suffered as Mac and his father were.

Mrs White, Amy’s mother – otherwise known as Mama – was supposedly the only mother figure Branson ever know, but even she didn’t do anything. She would listen and be Branson’s confidant when he was younger, before he went to college, but she never DID anything. I find that infuriating.

I absolutely love Liam. He’s such a great, light-hearted character that brings a little joy into the story. Though Branson can be quite a depressive character – understandably – Liam drags him out of his slump more than a few times and their friendship blossoms into something beautiful. The care that Liam takes with Branson is beautiful; he’s careful, gentle, and thoughtful. He always tries to do what is best for Branson, during his time of grief.

I really loved the few slip ups, while we’re in Branson’s POV, where we really see how oblivious he is. Liam has a couple of adorable moments when “lo-” becomes “care for you” and you just know he’s falling madly in love with Branson, but is afraid to say it in case it scares Branson off. Knowing how oblivious Branson is to these moments is heartbreaking, but heart warning at the same time; it makes the slip ups more important.

It’s also great to see the way that Liam’s care and friendship gives Branson the chance to be himself, for once, and gives him the security to find out how he really feels about Liam. The way he begins opening up to his new friend is sweet and wonderful, even if you know he’s not ready for it to become anything more than friendship just yet.

Negatives

Right, well I did warn you that the pros and cons were almost equal. So, here’s a few of the biggest problems. None of them are about spelling/grammar. I haven’t noticed any problems there, but the problem is with the writing style and the language.

Liam – I love Liam a lot, but the way he talks drove me up the wall! He’s Irish, fine. But the way he talks is so stereotypical and obnoxious that it’s bordering on insulting. I’m not Irish, but I know plenty of people who are and NOT ONE of them speaks like him. Urgh! No. No. Nononononono! This is really annoying, unnatural and knocks me right out of my reading. I read most of this book like a glazed, hypnotised person, unable to look away – no sense of time, refusing to stop for drinks, snacks, loo breaks etc – but any time Liam opened his mouth I cringed.

Tags – every other sentence seems to have a tag on it. If it’s not “man”, “bud” or “lad”, then it’s something else and it drove me nuts. Who talks like that? Once or twice, for each character, is fine. But not every other sentence and about six times a page.

The “incidences” – The times when Branson switches off are never explained. I believe it’s just him going into shock, but Liam makes a big deal out of them, as if they’re something more serious, and that’s never explained to my satisfaction. It’s the only medical condition never actually explored and I find that disappointing, since it was such a big thing.

Details

The detail of Mac’s injuries and treatment is brilliant. With a nurse for a mum and a love of medical programs, I often read medical themed books and roll my eyes at how unrealistic they are. Some don’t even try, and gloss over the medical aspects, but this one does the opposite.

Mac’s injuries, the lasting effects and every individual hiccup he has over time, are explained in such a way that we really understand what he’s suffering and how it affects Branson. In this aspect, it really reminds me of a recent read “Something Like A Love Song”, by Becca Burton. They two are quite similar in the way they have an unconscious patient as the central character that all others revolve around, the way they portray major medical trauma in a realistic, unbiased way, where the injury isn’t glossed over or instantly cured by skipping ahead a few months.

The romance isn’t heavy handed, sexual or ignored and skimmed over. This is perfect for the characters, since Branson really has a lot of trouble with the idea of being gay. The way that he and Liam interact, the balanced, realistic difficulties they face and the constant fear and doubt that plagues Branson is real. There’s nothing forced about this romance. Although their relationship does progress into the physical things, it’s handled with care by both the author and the characters, and it’s explored sensitively.

Overall

Overall, it was a great story, that made me cry more than once. I loved the diverse characters, the intricate, unpredictable plot and the realism of both Branson’s emotional state and the medical issues. However, I don’t agree with the ending. I don’t think that Mac, in any shape or form, could be considered a role model or good guy. Yet, the ending pays homage to him as if he were and suggests that he was ever someone Branson should remember fondly. Sure, he’s the guy’s brother, but he mentally and physically tortured him for years.

I’ve read a few reviews that complain about how repetitive Branson and Liam’s days are, but that’s the reality of living in and out of a hospital. I know, because I’ve been there. So, I found it reassuring that these monotonous events were acknowledged, because a lot of people are too afraid to admit that living in and out of a hospital is too boring for a book. But real is not boring. I’d be more annoyed if it wasn’t included, since it’s the reality of the situation.

Although the story was brilliant, I would normally take off one star for the whole Mac issue, the ending, and the awful Irish accent. But, it made me cry more than once and for that I can forgive the minor flaws in the story that may only irritate me. Who knows, other people might find them agreeable.

For me, I’m beginning to see that this author is a hit or miss for me. I either love or loathe the writing style. I love the story of this book, but the language use is awful. Personally, I don’t like accents written out at the best of times, but when it’s done in such a way as Liam’s Irish brogue, it makes me want to stop reading. It’s the story that kept me going and I’m glad of that. This is an important read and I’m glad I continued with it.

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