This is part of my series of reviews of fiction published by Harmony Ink Press featuring asexual characters. You can find the introduction here.
What Is This Story About?
Manny is a Korean-American teenager living in a small town in Michigan, and is the only male friend Jim has. Jim moved to Michigan right after he spent a month in juvenile detention center after being convicted of rape, and since word of this has gotten around town, most people in town are hostile towards him.
Then someone is sending sexually explicit message to middle school girls. A lot of people assume that it was Jim, but Manny believes the Jim is innocent. Will they force Jim out of town for something he did not do? And who is the perpetrator?
What Sexual and/or Violent Content Does This Story Have, If Any?
There is nothing sexual that happens in the story itself (even the sexually explicit messages sent to middle school girls are not in the novel itself, instead characters read the messages and say “Nobody should ever write anything like that to a middle school girl!” or something like that) Jim’s past as a rapist gets discussed a lot, and there are occasional vague references to various characters’ history of child sexual abuse. In terms of violence that happens in the story itself, there is stalking, arson with the intent to cause injury, and a possible suicide attempt.
Tell Me More About This Novel.
This is the sixth and final book in the Deep Secrets and Hope series. This is the only book I’ve read in the series, so here is a blurb from the publisher:
Growing up is never easy, and experiencing bullying and harassment can sometimes make it feel impossible. But when friendships are formed and confidence is allowed to blossom, hope is sure to follow—and not only for those who suffer mistreatment. With support, even the bullies can change and grow.
Just browsing through the books in this series, it seems like an example of the Queer Ensemble trope, albeit without any character representing the T in LGBTQ+
The premise of this novel is obviously controversial, since it is told from the POV of a character who is good friends with a convicted rapist. It raises the question – if a rapist pleads guilty and accepts punishment in accordance to the law, how should people treat them afterwards? There are some obvious wrong answers – such as framing them for crimes they didn’t commit – but it is a sensitive topic nonetheless.
It’s repeated over and over again in the novel that Jim never stalked anyone, that he only raped girls his own age who he was already dating, they never said no, etc. which is a) literally true and b) useful for guessing how likely he is to be the one sending the middle school girls creepy messages. On the other hand, in our culture and society, there is a subtext that, because it was ‘just’ date-rape, it was less bad. That is more the fault of society at large than this specific novel, and the novel counters it by having both Manny and Jim say over and over again ‘rape is rape’.
I feel that, not having read the earlier books in the series (especially the books which features one of Jim’s victims as the protagonist) there is limit to how useful my evaluation of this part of the story is. I do gather that Jim was the primary antagonist in the early books in the series.
I figured out really early on who the perpetrator(s) behind the inappropriate messages to middle school girls was/were. There is a little bit of a twist, but I even saw that someone ahead of time. On the other hand, I still wanted to see them get caught, so that kept me reading.
On the asexuality content scale (1 = ‘By the way, I’m asexual’ and asexuality is never mentioned again, 10 = a story all about asexuality and little else) I would rate this story as a 3.
Most of the time, Manny is caught up in the drama around Jim getting framed. However, when he can pull himself away from the main plot, he’s involved in this subplot around how to tell people (specifically, his parents) that he is a homoromantic asexual.
This is the first that this mentioned in the novel:
I didn’t even bother commenting about the marriage and children part of what she’d said. Having children would involve marrying a woman, which didn’t really appeal to me.
It would also involve having sex, which appealed to me even less. As in, not at all.
Two more things I didn’t dare tell my parents. When I thought about spending the rest of my life with someone, it was usually a guy. No one in particular but definitely male. Preferably one who didn’t want to do anything sexual. Maybe if I loved someone enough, I would want to have sex with him, but somewhere deep down, I knew love wouldn’t make a difference. Sex just wasn’t something I wanted.
Even though he does not have the vocabulary at this point in the novel, he does have a clear sense of his orientation.
There is more to say about this subplot, but it would be difficult for me to say it without getting into spoiler territory.
Was This Written by an Asexual?
I don’t know.
Why is this novel titled Ball Caps and Khakis?
I don’t know. Neither ball caps nor khakis are prominent in the story.
Will Manny grow up to become a musician who writes songs about being a homoromantic asexual?
I don’t know.
Hey Sara, Do You Like This Novel?
Yes, I do.
Where Can I Get This Novel?
I got it from the Dreamspinner Store. One may also get it from the Harmony Ink Store (note: the Dreamspinner Store often has sales, the Harmony Ink Store not so much), and from various eBook retailers.
If you want to buy the entire six-book series, at the time this is being posted, you can buy the bundle (eBook only) for 9.99 USD.