Mournian’s provocative novel sets up some unique challenges for Ahmed, the author’s embattled gay hero, when he is violently incarcerated by his Middle-Eastern father in Serenity Ridge, a residential facility designed to convert queer teens. Stripped of his feelings by a father who can’t accept his son’s sexuality and by a stepmother who opened his journal and read that he might be queer,
Ahmed is left to rot in a forgotten treatment plan, enduring endless electric shocks and abuse by officious, uncaring managers.
Mournian’s story speeds along
like a dazzling, fuel-injected dream. Ahmed, buffeted by life, must learn to survive on instinct alone. Saved at the last moment by two warrior-like lesbians, each step brings
Ahmed closer to the Vegas strip and a bus to San Francisco, “a gray beat that slumbers towards the morning sun.“
The bleary eyed, sleep-deprived boy is eventually dropped in the City by the Bay.
Rescued by the comforting Marci, who drives around picking up queer kids,
Ahmed is placed in a shelter for runaway teens. For Ahmed, this is a city that doesn’t seem “psychedelic so much as plain psycho,” a place that demands a certain level of street smarts. Vanishing into the shadows of Polk Street and the poverty of the safe house with ratty bunk beds, only an isolated rooftop seems to offer
Ahmed solace from the harsh world around him.
Nicknamed Ben, Ahmed writes his darkest thoughts in a blue notebook as his world becomes imbued with street-wise reality. The deadly knife-carrying Mr. Blue Eye, who rapes and kills boys in public restrooms, becomes a new and dangerous part of Ben's gritty existance.
Life is mostly governed by the strict rules of the safe house, and it is here that Ben meets Kidd, Sugar, and Anita, a crazy trans girl; Alice/ Nadya; and Hammer, a blond, sexy muscle-god “who smells as good as he looks.”
The kids blossom under the queer teen sexuality of their ramshackle comfort
zone. J.D, a boy sexually wise beyond his years, offers Ben the promises of love and passion.
In Ben's attempts to forget Serenity Ridge, his father, the nurses and the quack doctors, we witness a mistrustful, disconsolate boy gradually bourgeon, his hatred of his family finally taking second place to the fun and thrills of romance and desire.
Swept away by an anxious and uncertain reality, Ben goes through hell, trying desperately to survive the politics and betrayals of the safe house
and forced to rely on scarce resources with only his impulses to guide him. Ben doesn't trust J.D.
- or anyone. With bounty hunters lurking and an ecstasy-laden Halloween party
that evaporates over time, Ben is pulled into the throngs of magic and mischief,
an evocative dreamscape of mirth-makers and party animals.
Like blunt force head trauma, Mournian’s short, sharp prose pounded me. Steeping his story in eroticism and danger, the author presents a volatile mix of violence and steamy romance crammed with muscle boys, hippy chicks and seductive trannies. Although the story loses impact in the final chapters, Ben's tale is a worthy contribution to those LGBT teens bound together on the edge, forced to live in the shadows, perpetually running from society's homophobia.