As mentioned in my last blog post, it’s so crucial for authors not to just bang on about their own books, but to talk about the books they’re reading and the authors they admire. And hey, I get to do both here! I was fortunate to get my hands on an ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy) of Jude Sierra’s second novel, What It Takes. Jude has a background in poetry, and she has a lyrical writing style that I was really looking forward to reading.
This is maybe one of the most intimate reading experiences I’ve ever had.
I fell into the world immediately it’s the type of story that starts right away, and she has such skill at doling out exposition in a way that never slows the reading down. I mean, never.
At one point I realized that we were going to follow these two characters at eight years old to adulthood, and wondered how on earth she would fit decades into this book. Well, she does it by never letting the story bog down with minutiae. She chose so carefully to focus on the two main characters with alternating points of view that help push the narrative along at a brisk clip, but she also chose to focus only on their moments that are about each other. Even when it’s one character realizing something about himself, the spectre of his relationship with the other is always present, giving us insight into both of them.
This is what has the text move at a fast clip, but because it’s so deeply embedded in our leads, it doesn’t feel thin at any point. You see their growth, their relationship as it ebbs and flows (as all friendships do). Their names are headlining the marquee, so of course they end up together, there’s also a very real dread of,”But!! I don’t know how.?”
Friends, that takes skill.
In the beginning, we meet Milo, a young boy running away, and how fortunate that he meets Andrew, who is always searching, a lovely theme that runs through the novel with his painting of stars and constellations, made up just for he and Milo a special map for the two of them to find their way through adolescence.
MID-BOOK SPOILER: when Andrew painted over those constellations, the intent that these two young men needed to move on and find themselves instead of being so co-dependent on one another, I shed real tears. I had to get up and walk around my apartment. The loss was palpable. I’m tearing up right now remembering it. /end of spoiler
“Love isn’t always enough,” Jude writes at one point, and it’s this grounded thinking, this very real, very adult approach to life and romance that makes this story something special. This isn’t cheap, this isn’t easy, and this is real life. Beautified and perfected ultimately by Jude’s skill with words and storytelling, but the feelings and emotions are so, so honest and real.
There’s a good reason why she earned a Starred Publisher’s Weekly review, and it’s because this story is so tender, so lovely, and so, so believable. It’s quiet and romantic and raw in places, never gratuitously exploitative of young Milo’s abuse by his father. We can imagine what’s happening; we don’t need to revel in it.
If the type of reading you enjoy is deeply romantic, quietly emotional and lyrical in form, you would be doing yourself a huge disservice in not giving this beautiful book a chance. Because it’s been so well received by the Big Reviewers, there is also the option of asking your local library for a copy.
You won’t regret it. Milo and Andrew are two men who will be with me for a very long time.
What It Takes is available at the Interlude Press store on Thursday, January 14th and wherever fine books are sold.