The Night Screams, Devon McCormack
Publisher: Harmony Ink
Genre: Gay Young Adult
Tags: Teens, Drama, Romance, Some (not overly graphic) Darker Themes
Length: 220 Pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
Running naked through the woods, Cal flees the sadistic man who abducted and tortured him. When he stumbles upon a convenience store, he breaks in to steal food. A young store clerk, Jake, confronts him, and they get into a fight that ends with Cal being knocked unconscious. He wakes in the home of Jake’s Uncle Gary, the owner of the convenience store. Realizing Cal needs help, Gary tries to communicate with him, but despite Cal’s efforts, he can’t bring himself to speak. Instead, he writes down his experiences. Horrified by the perverse cruelty Cal endured, Gary takes him to the police, who track down his tormentor.
Abandoned by his parents before his abduction, Cal doesn’t have anywhere to go, so Gary and his wife eagerly welcome him into their home. He feels fortunate to be with such caring people—something he’s never had before. Despite their help, he still can’t find his voice, and he wonders if he ever will. And Jake certainly isn’t making things any easier. It’s clear he doesn’t want Cal to be part of their family. But the more Cal gets to know him, the more he realizes Jake might be the very person who can heal the deep wounds left by his horrifying past.
Cal turns up at a general store trying to take some items after running through the woods, literally for his life. Jake is working at the store when Cal tries to hit and run for essentials. He doesn’t know Cal’s story, he just doesn’t take too kindly to someone seemingly trying to rip off Gary and Luce, the owners of the store, people who took him in when he needed it.
In the beginning Cal can’t speak to be able to tell anyone exactly what happened to him. He can use notes but there’s a limitation to that method of communication, especially when someone has been traumatised. When bruising on Cal’s wrists is noticed Gary and Luce make sure Cal talks to the police so they can look into what happened. They also ensure he goes to hospital and sees a therapist. Gary and Luce also make a decision to take Cal in when they discover his parents don’t want him. Cal worries that once they know he’s gay they won’t want him either. One of the main arcs of The Night Screams is the difficulty facing a young guy who has been hurt deeply by those who should love him the most. That religion also aided conditional parenting, saying one thing but doing something else.
Jake is hostile towards Cal in the beginning but he eventually lets his guard down and brings Cal into his group of school friends in town. They all allow Cal into their inner sanctum. It isn’t too long before a relationship develops between Cal and Jake, two boys who have experienced a lot in their young lives. Cal can’t believe that this gorgeous, confident guy wants to be with him – someone rejected by his family, by other people, and yet Jake chooses him. Cal is fearful of abandonment in general because of several experiences. Overall I liked Cal, he was very open to people and their thoughts and ideas. He was also incredibly empathetic, often to the point of over-worry. However, I wasn’t keen on his jealous moments and his fear of losing Jake driving his lack of communication with issues that would arise. He’d rather allow himself to hurt than get it out in the open. Jake could be very… passionate, with that came a few outbursts against people that didn’t deserve it, but these guys are 17/18. So, I get it.
Things I liked:
Devon McCormack gives a young male voice to gay YA books and, in my opinion, that’s a huge plus for contemporary books in the genre. The Night Screams, whether you like it or not, contains swearing typical of 17/18 year olds, some darker themes, although they are not dwelt upon, coming of age and romance. There are comments, language and humour that will speak to young people looking to connect to LGBT YA which I believe is really important.
There were some tender, sweet words and moments between Cal and Jake. Their love story was conflicted by emotions at times, pretty typical of youth and theses guys respective backgrounds, but they were gentle partners for one another.
I liked both of the MCs, although I could have shaken them once or thrice – again, teenagers. Cal was sweet and he’d been hurt so badly by his family’s lack of love and care. Hurt because they threw him out when they knew he was gay. He would see a family come into Gary’s store and he would ache with wanting to be loved by his family. How true the hurt of being cast aside by family simply because of who you love. I really felt for Cal every single time.
He grabbed the Twix and approached the counter. Cal envied the kid. He had a dad who cared, who seemed as if he would care about him even if his son turned out to be gay. He couldn’t really know how that man would respond to something like that, but for some reason he believed he would be fine.
While Jake could be a bit of a hot-head at times, he actually developed into a patient, loyal and caring partner for Cal. He wanted nothing more than to protect Cal and take things slowly, and ultimately he was happy to prove his love.
Because this was also an important arc, I loved reading the support Gary and Luce gave Jake and Cal. Occasionally Luce would be caught up in her church and the “Good Christian Bitches” mentality that small towns + religion can throw your way. She would sometimes act differently towards the boys after something happened – like Jake’s eventual PDA toward Cal in town. However, she loved them both like they were her own children, which she couldn’t have. Gary was unwavering in his support. Gary and Luce gave Cal a job and a home when he had none of that before. They’d already done that for Jake so they were both gold for me.
“…when she realized there were people out there who could so easily shake off their own kids. It rattled her. “Don’t know if you can tell, but Luce has never had much luck with having her own. She’s tried, but it’s just not in the cards. So in a way, Jake was a blessing…”
The Night Screams has a happy ending for the MCs. It doesn’t generally happen in this genre because of the ages of the characters, but the author gave them one. That’s nice for those needing a HEA in their reading, who generally won’t read this type of book because happiness is fleeting or often difficult for people so young.
I liked the different use for screams, it was about more than the initial ordeal Cal escaped from. The screams represented emotional issues in Cal’s life, which I thought clever and meaningful. There are his thoughts on family and being kicked out, his insecurities, his love of Luce, their struggles, about inequality and being uncertain of himself in the world. I believe Cal is still a work in progress and the screams from the title signifies that too.
I liked Mallory, the only girl in their group of friends, she was often the voice of reason, and she was funny. No real shrews in this book, other than the occasional GCB throwing shade at Luce.
The cover for The Night Screams is incredibly eye-catching, I found it interesting that while Cal is the main voice of the book, the cover is actually Jake – black wife beater and cowboy hat, his standard dress code. Given what he means to Cal it’s pretty appropriate he is on the cover and I thought that was an extra detail that meant a lot to the story.
The big niggle for me about The Night Screams is that the last 25% of this book became incredibly frenetic. Too much happened in what seemed like a rush against a word count – health, death, bad guys, friend’s issues, jealousy…. I appreciate action, I appreciate angst, I really do, but I wanted the MCs to slow down, take a deep breath, and sort out their primary issues. I did not want more drama heaped on Cal and Jake. On the family they had found. I wanted a clearer sorting out of the original thread that started the journey for Cal, which lost momentum. I would have liked a couple of the issues that Cal and Jake experienced expanded on further and sorted in a linear, powerful fashion. I really wanted some peace for all of them sooner. Even with the HEA I would have liked it given some extra time because, in a difficult world for these young guys, I was happy they found each other and I wanted that to have more kick.
The therapy aspects were close to non existent and Cal recovered fairly easily, given the beginning of the book. I don’t want therapy to take over a YA or romance book. However, I need that healing shown to me where someone has been scarred or violated in some way. I understand that the relationship between Cal and Jake, and Cal and Luce and Gary helped a lot, but I wanted something more.
The book may be somewhat polarising, it will depend on what you want going into it. The main concept of Cal escaping abduction isn’t utilised as well as I would have liked but I’m often found reading darker books. It’s still there, but it’s tempered and absorbed by a relationship, by love, by family, which I know other readers will appreciate more than the darker elements I wanted.
I’ve read everything that the author has written thus far, and I’m the first to admit that I’m a huge fan, but The Night Screams left me with mixed emotions. It appealed to me on the love front and through the family that Gary and Luce provided, by upbeat messages. It didn’t grab me on the darker side. You can take my review with a grain of salt because I’m just not a huge fan of YA writing these days. Honestly, I feel too old for teenage feelings and happenings. I (generally) never get the ending I’m hoping for in YA, although The Night Screams bucked the trend. My personal belief is that there could have been more expanded on in an adult or more mature genre that YA doesn’t allow for, especially for someone my age and level of cynicism. Some of these reasons are to blame for a conflict I had in rating the overall book – some threads/aspects I rate highly and others lower (as outlined in likes and niggles) so I made my book rating an average of those.
The bottom line is this, if you like LGBTQ YA with action, drama, more sweeter, tender moments and love, the message that family is important to young people and that family can also come from people who aren’t related to you, with a rare YA happy ending too, then The Night Screams could be just the book you’re looking for. 3.5 Stars!