This is the second book by Gold I’ve read and I think this author has a real knack for clever, interesting stories. The anthropomorphic world he creates is vibrant, engaging, and fresh even while at the heart the stories are simply about a boy meeting a boy and struggling to come out and mature. These young adult stories are warm and charming, even more so with the animal element. I’ve heard some readers say they’re put off by this very detail but I urge readers to take a chance, I think you’ll find this is as romantic and delightful as any contemporary ya m/m romance.
Waterways consists of three short stories starring the same men and in the same universe. I believe the stories were originally published separately but altogether they can be read like one fully realized novel, which is what I did. The trio star high school senior Kory, an otter, who falls in love with Samaki, a sexy black fox with intriguing patches of white. Kory comes to realize he’s gay and attracted to Samaki, but is not sure what that means for his life. Over the course of his last year in school, Kory goes through a lot of changes. He realizes what true friends are, his goals in life, which of his family will support him and which won’t, and finally where his belief and love for God stands.
This coming of age tale is very sweet and genuine. The plot is very character driven as the three novellas combine to show Kory as he first accepts that he may be gay and wants to be boyfriends with Samaki. Then Kory’s life turns upside down when he makes some very revealing choices and finally Kory must mature on his own. Taking responsibility for his choices is a big step for Kory but more so, understanding what he wants and needs. As a multifaceted, fascinating lead narrator Kory is often confused and scared, convinced the world around him will never accept him as gay. He comes to find out that the world is not only made up of extremes and that while some will easily accept him, some won’t and others will be in between. However the hardest path to acceptance is his own as Kory struggles heavily with accepting himself and finally admitting what he wants.
Kory’s path to acceptance is filled with a variety of well rounded secondary characters. From the foxy boyfriend Samaki to his supporting family, the gay homeless shelter and bitter, angry fruit bat, even Kory’s best friend all offer nuanced opinions and actions. None of these characters are rote or extremes and all give depth to the story. There is Kory’s best friend Sal who accepts Kory but later has a falling out. Sal is not flat or typical but he’s still relatable and a good character. He offers a character that is supportive, destructive, missed, and liked all at once. Similarly Samaki is subtle but confident. He’s not overly positive, coming across as realistic but optimistic. He offers a good balance to the overly analytic confusion Kory descends into.
The anthropomorphic setting adds a vivid, eye catching setting to the story. I personally adore these details since the story is at heart a rather conventional, well used coming of age tale about a confused gay teen trying to come to grips with his life. The use of animals brings an inherent warmth and charm into the story. The writing never lets you forget that while the emotions, actions, and situations are all very human, the characters and everyone inhabiting the world are animals. From otters to skunks, bats, squirrels, otters, foxes, sheep priests, and tigers these details don’t quit. There are numerous clever and witty references to pop culture changed to fit the animal world and all of these help keep the story fresh and interesting. Although the young men have sex, the graphic nature is kept subtle and veiled so you get the idea without being too explicit.
The writing is very good with snappy dialogue and a lot of sweet romance. The tone tends to show rather than tell and this helps keep the pace moving even through repeated introspective passages. The only downside is that there are many editing and grammar mistakes. So many that they pull you out of the story and may detract from a reader’s enjoyment. Most of these are small errors but they add up and those sticklers for clean stories may be annoyed here. I’d still recommend this story/collection as it’s delightful to read and very satisfying. There is a lot of romance, some angst, experimental sex, and a lovely coming of age.