A closeted teen learns that what is in his heart is more important than the opinions of others.
-Review by Cindi
Ryan's homeroom ('advisory') class is doing a Secret Santa gift exchange. Each student must make a handcrafted gift once a week for three weeks for whoever's name is chosen for them. Ryan gets Jamie, a flamboyant, openly gay student. Jamie is not ashamed of his sexuality nor does he try to hide it. This, however, makes him quite unpopular with the other boys in the school who take pride in taunting and bullying him.
Ryan is deep in the closet. He has nothing against Jamie (the only other gay person that he knows) but speaking with him would be social suicide so he avoids him at all costs. Picking Jamie's name in the Secret Santa gift exchange terrifies Ryan but he is determined to do what he needs to do regardless. No one will know who the gifts came from, right? With the help of his
seriously awesome mother (who just happens to work at a craft store) Ryan makes Jamie's first gift... something that turns out to be really, really ugly. Ryan knows that he can't give that to Jamie so he quickly grabs something out of his closet... something not handcrafted but with a bit of a special meaning to Ryan. Ryan is the only student in the class who does not receive a gift in class that day as the jerk student who got his name does not participate. Later when Ryan walks to his locker, there is an envelope attached to the outside with a special gift inside... a gift with not only special meaning to Ryan but with a message for him as well.
After the first gift exchange fiasco, Ryan makes an extra effort to ensure that the next gift for Jamie is perfect. With a lot of help from his mother and little sister, it is a success. Ryan also receives something special that day... something that he loves and that has special meaning but he is embarrassed to be seen with it because it looks so gay, according to the boy sitting next to him in class.
Suddenly Ryan is seeing Jamie in a different light but he is terrified of making his feelings known. He and Jamie form a tentative friendship/relationship ... but only away from others. The other boys at the school are constantly criticizing Jamie and Ryan's lack of reaction hurts him. Ryan refuses to even be seen near him in school because he is scared of being outed or being bullied himself for hanging around with the 'gay' boy. It takes the final gift exchange for Ryan to finally realize that what others think doesn't matter. All that matters is what is in his heart... and Jamie's. The ending was perfect.
The characters are perfect. Jamie is the ultimate character who is not ashamed of who he is even if he knows that toning things down would make his life much easier. Ryan is a typical teenager who only wants to fit in. Only fitting in in a crowd of bigots is not (what he discovers later) what he wants to do. You will laugh as Ryan tries to come up with gifts to make for Jamie. You will get teary-eyed and your heart will break for Jamie when Ryan snubs him. But in the end you will smile as Ryan does the right thing... not giving a damn what others think.
I really enjoyed this little story. The message is clear and it is told in a way that will leave you thinking afterward. I highly recommend this... not just for teens (as it is about teenagers) but for everyone who wants to read a good story with a good message.