From College to the World
I became a Robin Reardon fan some eight books ago when she was then publishing with Kensington books. There was something about her writing that pulled me in immediately and her plots were exactly what was needed. When Reardon began writing there was most definitely a dearth of LGBTQ literature for young readers. I really believe that she was partly responsible for that changing. Reardon’s voice could speak to the entire nation and perhaps one day it will. We are finally seeing acceptance of the LGBTQ community and with that things are constantly changing.
With the publication of Reardon’s ninth book, we have a beginning to the three volume series, “Trailblazer”. The books are centered around Nathan Bartlett and follow him through his freshman year in college to his early twenties as he does what all of us have had to do— find our way. I think that for many of us, the quest to know who we are is never ending. We often forget that our futures depend upon our pasts.
Nathan faces detours in his journeys including addictions that hamper his way. Being a trailblazer usually means doing something ahead of others and preparing the path so that others will be able to walk on it. Nathan becomes an explorer who sometimes finds himself at dead ends—- he forgets that the ending is not always the goal but the way to the ending is what is important. To make important choices, we must know ourselves and not knowing makes the road that much more difficult. I often wonder if we ever grow up completely. Life is not about answers but about the questions. Reardon describes Nathan as a trailblazer because he dares to explore himself and who he is and to do that he has had to muster up courage and a willingness to stick with it until he is content. It would certainly be much easier for him to use someone else’s path but doing so could push him out of the picture and he would become just a number of one who tried. This is his journey and for it to remain his, he must forge his own way.
Chocorua is Nathan’s metaphor. During the first year of college, we have the power to really be who we want to me if we know who that is. Nathan does not use the best judgment when he acts and he learns from that. There were moments when I wanted to reach out to him and make him feel loved and there were times when I was ready to use every four letter word I know on him. I almost caught myself yelling at him when he fell in love with someone because he looked like his own brother and was straight, I became very angry when he ventured into the world of addiction and I really thought that he had lost it when he decided to climb a mountain regardless of the awful weather conditions. But then again, haven’t we all done things that are just as crazy ?
Nathan was strong enough to deal with his personal demons head on by recognizing that for many questions there are no easy answers. Very few of us have our lives handed to us so, like Nathan, we have to struggle and even suffer for what we feel is important. I really loved being with Nathan on his journey and I am especially glad that it was Robin Reardon who wrote the wonderful text. Each of her books has tackled some aspect of LGBT life that can be problematic and while she does not have all the answers, she gives us options to think about. Reardon is the kind of writer whose words stay with you long after the read is over. For me that is one of the definitions of good literature. Nathan’s journey is a collective journey with room for all of us to become a part of. We might not realize it but by reading this book, we are learning a lot about who we really are.
Where to begin with this incredible novel? If you are expecting a neatly tied up story with a happy ever after then you must reset your expectations and know that what you will experience is only the beginning of the journey for young Nathan Bartlett. I have a feeling that over the course of this trilogy we will grow up with Nathan for we assuredly have begun down that path with this first installment.
After losing his parents at a young age and then taken in by his maternal grandmother, it is his brother Neil who will become his confidant, his substitute father and his best friend. Even though the brothers would not share their love for hiking, Neil would be Nathan’s emotional anchor and his sense of security. Now in his first year at college, Nathan will be alone for the first time and mistakes will definitely be made from falling for a guy simply because he reminds him so much of the brother he is missing to a brush with drug addiction that will leave Nathan shaken and raw as someone he has deep feelings for will fall prey to its deadly grasp. Nathan will lust after a straight guy, come out to strangers for the first time and experience his first kiss and foray into sex. But through it all, something will be lacking—something that will drive Nathan to do foolish things and trust in those who will inevitably let him down. At the end of freshman year, it will be a changed man who stands on Mount Chocorua—one who has experienced incredible loss and one that is determined to make that loss count.
On Chocorua introduces us to a conflicted and, admittedly, naïve young man named Nathan. As we watch his first year at university unfold we begin to get a sense of just how much Nathan craves approval—not just by his older brother, Neil, but often by those he either is attracted to or in a relationship with over the course of his freshman year. It will be this addiction, of a sort, to being found worthy of being loved, that will cause our poor Nathan to do things he never would have deemed sensible had he been able to divorce his driving desire to be loved and wanted from his decision making. But it’s just these mistakes and moments of lapsed judgment that make this character so accessible and so real. He acts his age—and for a writer to achieve that with a character is more than half the battle when writing young adult material. But author Robin Reardon takes this expertise one step further and allows her guy to experience the deep pain of loss—not once, but twice and it will be the second time that is the more devastating one for poor Nathan. The experience he has from his first year away at school will begin to shape the man he wants to be in the future. It will give him a sense of focus that previously eluded him and an understanding of the desires that drove his emotions more fully. From the ashes will spring a great deal of hope and it will be that which will fuel Nathan’s ability to shoulder on despite incredible sadness.
Robin Reardon invites the reader on a trip that will lead her characters to embrace hard truths about themselves and those they love but also reveal a vast store of courage they never knew they had. There will be mistakes made and pain experienced along the way but there will also be an awakening and maturity that promises to be inspiring to those who finish the trek. I can’t wait to see what lay in store for Nathan next.
In the first book of her "Trailblazer" trilogy, "On Chocorua,"author Robin Reardon introduces Nathan Bartlett, a confused albeit determined and well-intentioned young man who begins to better understand his feelings of insecurity, elation, lust and idolatry during his ongoing journey of self discovery as a college freshman at the University of New Hampshire.
Nathan and his older brother and sister, Neil and Nina, were raised by their grandmother after their parents were tragically killed in an accident when he was just a toddler. Upon arrival at school, Nathan meets his roommate, El Speed (whose real name is Larry), Larry's girlfriend, Ellie, and her best friend, Gordon.
Neil is the only person who knows Nathan is gay until he confides in his roommate and is relieved when El Speed shrugs it off like it's no big deal. Soon thereafter, when Nathan gets a job in the dining hall kitchen, he becomes friends with his boss, Daniel, whose affinity for hiking reminds him of Neil. Nathan also connects with the openly gay Alden from his acting class who asks him outright if he would be interested in a friendship with benefits.
Reardon has a remarkable knack for capturing the mindset of youngsters on the pathway to adulthood, especially when it comes to their desires. Each member of Nathan's new network of friends is not only likable but believable. Furthermore, Nathan's guarded attitude and unpredictable emotions are especially relatable for anyone adjusting to new surroundings while longing for the familiarity and comforts of home.
As expected with hormonal teens, there is plenty of drama, and like Nathan, everyone has their own uphill battle. Just when Nathan thinks he might be falling in love for the first time, Alden's past comes back to haunt him with a vengeance.
In addition, Nathan and El Speed find themselves embroiled in a dangerous drug-related matter with a fraternity. Meanwhile, Nathan is so inexplicably fond of Daniel that he puts his own safety at risk, but the trials and tribulations of his life at college pale by comparison when tragedy befalls his family yet again.
Reardon is a master at what authors most want to accomplish: she makes you care about her characters. Although Nathan and his cohorts are all young, the lessons learned about being your true self and living life to its fullest are applicable at any age. Nathan's adventures are just beginning, yet what he has endured thus far will forever shape his future and help lead the way.
Wow, this was some book. In one sense, it’s a college, coming of age, coming out book, but it’s so much more than that. In the beginning we’re told something that I can’t reveal as it’s a major spoiler, but it colours everything else that happens and throws it into a sharper perspective, helping us to understand some of Nathan’s motivations.
The book follows Nathan, as he heads off to college and a new start. The only person who knows he’s gay is his brother Neil who has been the closest thing to a father he’s known since his parents were killed in an accident when he was very young. His intention is that he’s re-invent himself at college, coming out and becoming the best version of him (a gay version) he can be.
During his time at college, he makes friends, has a crush, falls in love, experiences love and loss, almost dies on a hike, gets into fights and grows in every way. The book is very much a journey for Nathan, through good times and bad times, which we travel with him.
As with the previous books I’ve read by this author, the thing that strikes me the most is how natural and effortless the writing seems and how real the characters and situations are. One thing flows into another and the true relevance and/or significance of even small things only become evident later in the book. I suspect that it’s one of those books that if you read it for a second or third time you’ll find things you missed the first time that provide even more light to complex situations.
Nathan doesn’t have it easy and neither do we as the reader. There are light parts and happy parts, times when we cheer Nathan on with a smile on our faces, but oh God there are some gut-wrenching parts, unexpected horrors that grip us by the (metaphorical) balls and punches us in the gut. There are twists and surprised I never saw coming and situations that are both unbelievable and very real.
Although there are romantic connections in the book, I wouldn’t call it a romance. It’s a life adventure.
In the end, the book delivers exactly what it says and more. The story blazes trails through every college story you’ve read, twists it and serves it up with side of realism and the true joys and horrors life just drops in our laps whether we want them or not. As with the other books by this author I’ve read, the story—if we pay attention—will teach us things about ourselves, our motivations, friendships, morals and the world we live in.
I absolutely loved this book and will one-hundred-percent be looking out for the next in the series. If you follow my reviews you’ll know that I don’t give five stars lightly, saving them only for books that I feel are out of the ball park. This is certainly one of them.