Swan Song for an Ugly Duckling by Michael Murphy
Published: 28 May 2014
Genre/s: YA, GLBT
Source: Own library
Find It: Goodreads ~ Amazon
Aaron and Josh come from extraordinarily different backgrounds in small town America. Aaron is the only child of a fundamentalist preacher who fears and condemns the ways of the world outside their community. Josh is a jock who can only seem to express the feelings Aaron stirs in him by tormenting Aaron about how he looks and dresses. But one day, Josh’s world is turned upside down by a simple sentence spoken by Aaron, and he decides to get closer to Aaron.
Aaron assumes it is a new form of torture, but Josh persists: first a ride home, then talking with Aaron while he does his afternoon farm chores. Then Josh persuades Aaron’s father to let him participate in a scholastic event out of town one weekend. Josh pays a huge price for Aaron to attend, but that one weekend persuades Aaron to get free of his parents and attend college.
College doesn’t solve all their problems, though. Josh is horrified when a senior on campus seduces Aaron. He can’t believe Aaron has always been gay and he missed it—and missed getting to be Aaron’s first. But when Aaron finds out his boyfriend isn’t faithful, things go from tense to worse.
Once again it’s a book with a main character who lives in an isolated religious community. It’s a theme that I’m always drawn to, and Swan Song for an Ugly Duckling had the added bonus of being a GLBT novel.
The synopsis is pretty accurate – Aaron has been bought up in a community lead by his father, and is grudgingly allowed to attend school where he is ridiculed for his hair, his clothes, his glasses, and generally ostracised by the other kids. Josh is one of his worst tormentors, until the moment that Josh realises that there’s more to Aaron than meets the eye, and he starts to befriend him.
The negative aspect of this book was the clumsiness of the writing. It never really feels like it flows properly, the dialogue is awkward and the second portion, when Aaron and Josh go to college changed the dynamic of the story so much that I felt like I was reading another book entirely.
However, the first part of the book I enjoyed very much – I loved seeing the friendship between Aaron and Josh grow and develop, and although the overwhelming message was about Aaron finding freedom from the restrictions of his upbringing, it was also interesting to see Josh grow as a character. Murphy does a good job of weaving those themes together, even making it possible to feel sympathy for the bully as well as the bullied.
Swan Song for an Ugly Duckling is a touching story about two young men finding their way through difficult times, an unusual friendship, and breaking free of the things that are holding them back. I enjoyed it quite a lot, despite the fact that at times the writing felt a little awkward and the feel of the story switched so quickly from the first to second half.