Russ Michaels has his whole life ahead of him but no plans beyond dropping out of school as soon as he turns 18. He's been in and out of juvenile detention for the last four years and thoroughly expects to end up in an adult penitentiary at some point. He hates life and everyone in it, especially this latest community service that he earned in lieu of juvie yet again.
CJ Calhoun has big plans. He wants to bring joy and happiness to sick and injured children for as long as he can by performing as a clown. The problem is, he has stage-four cancer and a horrible prognosis.
When circumstances throw these two polar opposites together, they find they have more in common than they imagined. CJ discovers Russ's talent for art and arranges for Russ to create a mural in the hospital foyer, which leads to a tentative scholarship to the Art Institute. As life changes in ways neither of them could have expected, Russ must work harder than ever to better himself as CJ struggles with his deteriorating health.
I read and reviewed Ray of Sunlight before so I’ll just copy that here. I will say that listening to it was just as entertaining and emotional. This is one of the few books that brought me to tears.
The best compliment I can give a book is to say I couldn’t put it down. That’s the case with Ray of Sunlight by Brynn Stein. It was time to go to sleep, past time actually, and I set my Kindle down with the final quarter of the book remaining. But my brain wouldn’t let of Russ and CJ, so even though I had my CPAP mask on and was fighting a cold I grabbed my Kindle and finished the book. The lack of sleep was well worth it.
This was an amazing read with startlingly realistic depiction of an angry teen who grows by leaps and bounds when he’s influenced by a new friend.
Ray of Sunlight by Brynn Stein starts with teenager Russ Michaels being sentenced to 500 hours of community service for the latest of many bad choices. Written in first person POV, the reader is in Russ’s head as he lists all the things he’s done and how he’s not to blame for any of it. It’s the perfect depiction of surly, bullheaded teenager who’s mad at the world.
The community service leads to Russ meeting CJ Calhoun, a young man who dons clown make-up and does shows for kids in the burn unit of a hospital. Russ is surprised that CJ also lives at the hospital because he has cancer. Russ then starts a marvelous transformation from a quick-tempered teen pissed off at the world to a caring and selfless young man.
I loved that the metamorphosis didn’t happen overnight, but rather over a period of months, bit by bit. His friendship with CJ starts it all when he sees how CJ cares about all the kids who have to stay at the hospital because of burns, cancer, or neurological disorders. At Thanksgiving Russ helps organize a large meal for all the kids and their families, and while his original purpose behind it is to see CJ, he sees the positive effects on everyone involved.
Russ’s family life is far from happy and it’s easy to see why he began misbehaving in the first place. He has a step-father who hates him and treats him poorly, a mother who supports whatever her husband says and a step-brother who he has a rivalry with. There’s definite verbal and emotional abuse heaped on Russ as well some physical. It’s not a pretty situation.
One of my issues with the book are Russ’s step-father and mother who are the stereotypical hypocritical homophobes. But the positives of this tale far outweigh that one little niggle. Especially the evolution of the relationship between Russ and his step-brother, Pete. They go from enemies to friends over the course of the book and it was a realistic change. At the end Pete stands up to his dickhead father in support of Russ and they refer to each as brothers, ditching the step label.
CJ and the staff and children at the hospital become Russ’s new family and he learns what true, unconditional love is.
I absolutely loved Russ and CJ’s slow moving love story. CJ knew he loved Russ before Russ had figured it out himself. Russ is bisexual, but hasn’t told anyone, or done anything with anyone, male or female. Their romance is sweet and hot, though they never did anything more than make out, CJ’s cancer doesn’t allow them to do much more, not that they don’t think about.
I’d recommend this book for YA readers and for those who don’t normally read the genre. It’s well written with the perfect voice of a teenager.
I really hope there’s a follow-up to the story, especially after the emotional epilogue. I’d love to see Russ’s happy ending.
Nicholas Santasier did a simply marvelous job at narrating the story. In my mind Russ has a special voice and Santasier nailed it. He got the teenage angst perfectly. He did well with CJ and all the supporting characters as well.
I haven’t listened to Santasier before but I certainly won’t hesitate if he narrates a book I’m interested in.