Review 1878: Edinburgh

Fee is a 12-year-old mixed race boy (Korean-American) who feels out of place in his home in small-town Maine. Not only does he not look like his peers, but he likes boys. He is deeply in love with Peter, his best friend.

When Fee joins an elite boys’ choir, he thinks he recognizes in the choir director, Big Eric, a person like himself. But he soon realizes that Big Eric is a predator, who systematically abuses the soloists and keeps them from telling by threatening to cut them from the choir.

Fee conflates his homosexuality with Big Eric’s abuse and is so ashamed that he tells no one even when Peter is given a solo part. Eventually, Big Eric approaches the wrong boy, and the truth comes out. But this also has disastrous consequences for his victims, two of whom commit suicide.

Moving forward in life, Fee continues to be haunted by these events during his teen years and early adulthood. He is finally managing a happier adulthood as a swimming teacher in his home town with a loving partner when he meets a young student who reminds him of Peter and is involved in the early events in a way neither of them understand.

I had mixed feelings about this novel, which I won from Adam of Roof Beam Reader. It is beautifully written and incorporates lore from the Korean side of his character’s background. But it also feels removed from its characters, which is probably necessary as it feels at least somewhat autobiographical. There are some times when the lyrical language doesn’t seem to mean anything and is written more for its sound and images. But mostly, I am disappointed in the ending of the book.

Read no further if you want to avoid spoilers. I don’t usually include them, but I felt I had to in order to express my opinion of the book. It seemed to me that his succumbing to the boy, even though it was mutual and the boy was much older than he had been, is still a predatory act because of the teacher-student relationship. Also, I could not believe that he could teach a student without knowing his last name. There are rosters, reports to be filled out. That was just unbelievable.

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