When Ryan Came Back, Devon McCormack
Publisher: Harmony Ink
Genre: Young Adult
Tags: Paranormal – Ghost, Friends, School, Romance, Mystery, Contemporary Setting
Length: 230 Pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
When Ryan Came Back starts at a viewing of seventeen year old Ryan Walters body and the primary voice of the story, Steven Chase, is dealing with his feelings around the event. Ryan was someone that Steven had a quasi-complex history with. Steven is finding it hard to believe Ryan is dead. There are plenty of people there, except Steven’s mum, she can’t handle dead people. Steven reflects on how he’d just seen Ryan three days ago, they had ordered at Starbucks and joked around a little. How could Ryan be dead? It is all too surreal.
Being back at school, after the viewing and funeral, Steven finds it hard to watch life move forward when someone has just died. Particularly someone he had/has deep feelings for. Lessons continue, homework and projects are expected and people laugh and carry on. Sure, there are condolences on Facebook, probably a picture someone once had with Ryan in it. Everyone seems to be a bit fake about it all – another thing Ryan thinks about. On top of this, he finds it hard to believe that someone like Ryan – popular, dating Ellie, one of the hottest girls at Wylow High, on the football team, along with good grades and his college all sorted – could/ would kill himself. Were there any signs? Should he have known? Maybe not, as their friendship waxed and waned since elementary school after Ryan’s dad died and his mum moved them across town. They reconnected on and off in high, although there was always a fundmental connection between them, but Ryan moved onto the popular group and he hadn’t had as much time for Steven, particularly after one critical moment involving a bully. Steven has never forgotten Ryan – the games they played, the sleepovers they once had, how he had a crush (and more) on his straight friend. How they had just been joking around together three days ago. Even in death he still feels the same, only now he has regrets as well. Steven’s bff, Lindsay, doesn’t feel as attached to Ryan as Steven but she is kind about it and helps out at critical times.
It isn’t long after the viewing and funeral that Ryan appears to Steven in his bedroom. Steven’s first instinct is to be scared witless but Ryan tells Steven he needs his help. That he didn’t kill himself. He believes that someone else murdered him, only he doesn’t know who that someone is. All he remembers is something happened and then he woke up as a spectre, trying to work out how to deal with that. He doesn’t want his mother to think he committed suicide and left her on her own. He needs Steven to help him solve the mystery as Ryan’s body passes through most things without great concentration, he has no idea how it all works. In corporeal form he can’t do this without help and Steven is the only person who can see him. Throughout the book Steven tells no one about Ryan, that Ryan has come back, not even Lindsey.
After his initial shock at seeing Ryan’s ghost, Steven agrees to help him. Ryan feels it has something to do with a blog he was writing about some land, the church, a couple of ministers, a developer and the Fisheries and Wildlife Service. Steven starts to dig into the information that Ryan gives him.
What he soon discovers is that there is a whole other life to the person Steven thought he knew, and Ryan is not terribly forthcoming with details that Steven needs. Pretty soon Steven discovers that Ryan was having sex with Michael, the Wylow High newspaper editor. That is the tip of the iceberg of new information that leads Steven to believe that just maybe Ryan may have committed suicide – he was seeing the school counsellor as he wasn’t dealing with being gay, he was on antidepressants, he had a façade.
On top of a lot of Steven’s life now being about Ryan, and his cause of death, Steven is dealing with his chakra/Reiki-loving, me-centric mother – who royally pissed me off as a person, royally – snooping into things he’s not too happy about. Dealing with grief that Ryan is dead, that he liked other guys, that he fucked them… but not Steven. Never him. Not only did he not know then, but now he will never get the chance to do that, to have the physical intimacy he so craved, craves with Ryan. Now it seems so frustrating and futile.
There are a lot of teenage issues to do with a first (ongoing) love, hurt/comfort, families, school, being gay and the fear of coming out…
“Ryan just needed some help,” he said. “It wasn’t easy for him to deal with being…you know.”
I nodded. Were we just going to eliminate the word “gay” from our vocabulary?
“Mr. Kruger helped him. He really did. He’s a good guy.
The way he said that roused my suspicion, but I wasn’t going to press. There was way more to the story than Michael was telling me.
… plus standard teenage behaviour that is so perfectly drawn by Devon McCormack. Just for that alone I loved this book.
“Are we seriously going to talk about blockages in my chakras right now?” I asked.
Mom sighed. She looked to dad. “You see how I’m trying to reach out to him, and he just shuts me down?”
I’m a teenager! That’s, like, my job.
That Steven would feel so hurt is inevitable. That Ryan has secrets, and why, is believable, particularly given their ages and sexual orientation – hell, people at my age still keep a lot of secrets through their own personal fears and for appearances sake. On top of that, Steven is trying to study for his SATs and put in job applications and decide what he will do career wise.
The investigation is interesting. There is plenty of action and suspects as Steven tries to piece together who figures into Ryan’s death, if anyone at all. Just maybe it was Steven. Amongst the tumultuous but well crafted romance that is here between Steven and Ryan’s ghost, and the investigations, let’s just say that Steven’s hands are well and truly full.
I won’t add anymore as it will spoil the book and I don’t want to do that.
I make no secret of the fact that I like Devon McCormack’s writing. I may have been given an ARC, but I have also pre-ordered WRCB. I have read all of his books to date. Clipped is a favourite for a number of reasons – it’s paranormal, it’s erotica, there’s great world-building, I loved the characters and so on. Clipped and When Ryan Came Back are like night and day in their content, but the passion and the ability to make you want to turn the pages in Devon McCormack’s writing, whether adult or YA/NA, is very much evident here. What I really love about When Ryan Came Back, and I do love it, was the characters, how they are teenagers, not some caricatures of what teenagers are supposed to be. Teenage moments of being snarky or unsure are there. Their lack of, at times, effective communication and fears. There is also a mystery, and while I don’t see too many teenagers running around trying to solve mysteries, this is fiction and it is well written and interesting. It also stopped the book from singularly focusing on Steven’s realisations about who Ryan was, what he was, and why he lied, that he was dead, that only he could see him, and his feelings for him. He had to focus on how was he going to make things work with a ghost chatting to him, wanting to talk back but not look crazy at the same time. And, of course, he has to solve the questions of, did Ryan commit suicide or did someone take his life? If so, who and why? The book ends on a HFN. Anyone who reads YA/NA books knows that this is the way it works because of the characters’ ages. Here, there was another dynamic, a ghost. I seriously loved it. 5 Stars!
This is what I kept listening to as I read WRCB :
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fAQ-RfFnGOk Panu Aaltio
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LWz0JC7afNQ Echo and the Bunnymen