by Shuyler Clark
Given the prevalence of coming-of-age stories, the genre can feel stale as authors recycle tropes and plotlines. In his debut novel, Until September, Michigan native Harker Jones reinvents these tropes, subverting the typical with a tale that reflects harsh realities.
In the turbulent ’60s, Kyle spends every summer on an island with his tight-knit group of friends. However, their eighteenth summer takes a surprise twist, beginning with the arrival of island newcomer Jack. Kyle is instantly infatuated with the boy, but his obsession quickly impacts his relationships with his friends and family. As Kyle and Jack become friends and then lovers, they must navigate the tumultuous experiences of queer men in a far less accepting era. At the same time, their friends’ troubles intertwine with theirs as what was meant to be their best summer dissolves into one of heartbreak and consequences.
Kyle and Jack’s relationship is the prime focus of Jones’ debut as both indulge in their first true boyfriend experience. In particular, Jones emphasizes Kyle’s depression, which manifests more strongly upon first meeting Jack. In exploring this crippling loneliness, Jones excellently captures the solitary experience of a closeted queer person, especially in light of the homophobic atmosphere of the sixties. This makes the use of love-at-first-sight forgivable as it emphasizes the contrast between Kyle’s solitude and his hopefulness at finding love.
As the story progresses, Kyle’s growing optimism successfully reflects dramatic irony. From the prologue, readers are made aware of the tragic ending that awaits them; as one continues on, there is a constant sense of foreboding, even as Kyle and Jack’s relationship seems to be improving. The ending provides a realistic yet sorrowful conclusion to a first-love situation. Rather than giving readers a sense of pointlessness, this route amplifies their empathy for Kyle.
That said, aspects of the writing, while beautifully executed most of the time, could use some refinement. For instance, Kyle and Jack both have a flowery way of speaking, which is fine to a degree but at times feels corny and unrealistic considering how teenagers speak. This writing style comes across better in the prose, although the perspective is confusing at times. Many sentences begin with pronouns that leave the reader uncertain as to who is the subject of said sentences.
Similarly, the overall narrative style can be hard to follow. The prologue begins with a first-person perspective, then switches to third-person as the narrator says they “think of [it] as Kyle’s story.” While this works as a narrative device, the delivery is occasionally confusing; the third-person perspective seems to be limited for most of the book, only to occasionally become omniscient. This inconsistency can be distracting when the chapter’s chosen perspective isn’t specified.
Despite this, Until September proves to be a profound coming-of-age tale that stunningly captures the beauty and sorrow of young love. As a self-published title, it can be purchased on Amazon in either Kindle or paperback format.
Shuyler Clark is a graduate of Stockbridge High School and Lansing Community College. When she is not reading or writing, she can be found snuggling with her birds.