Caleb A. Mertz’s coming-of-age novel With Thoughts of Jason explores one young man’s struggle to come to terms with his sexuality and the fateful repercussions of his eventual coming out. Mertz thoughtfully investigates the complex issues of homophobia and hate crimes with a bold yet sensitive take on the intricacies of such social problems.
Jason has always been extra-sensitive to what people might think of him if he reveals his true sexuality. The fear has prevented him from doing so and Jason continues to live a closeted life, a life of misery with silent suffering. To add insult to injury, Jason is constantly bullied at school with name-callings and other defiling acts.
Turning his life around with the help of his close circle of friends, Jason gradually builds enough self-confidence to accept him for who he is. Over the few years that follows, Jason evolves from a closeted loner to a confident young gay man. Jason’s social life takes off from there as he meets new people, people with new interests, people who are like him. That’s when Jason meets Danny. With their instant connection, Danny eventually becomes a vital part in Jason’s life.
Through thick and thin, Jason and Danny struggle to survive in a world they are not fully accepted. Over time, Jason moves away from his family as they turned their back on him and friends he once knew abandoned him. To Jason’s eyes, it is the world against him. Life takes a tragic turn for Jason and Danny when a chance encounter leads to an unfortunate event.
As Mertz navigates us through the inner conflicts of the protagonist, it is quite evident that the writing comes straight from the author’s heart. In effect, Mertz expertly guides us through Jason’s pain and vulnerability, and eventually towards the tragic fate that lurks in the shadows. The sensitivity with which Mertz approaches around the subject is highly noteworthy, as exploring the fragile concept with such finesse could not have been as easy as it seems. If anything, it is proof that Mertz is rapidly making a mark in the literary world as a writer with a fresh, distinct voice.
The highpoint of this engrossing page-turner is its devastating finale that is unbelievably shocking, deeply moving and devastatingly sad. The finely-woven plot is not only satisfying but also heart-breaking. In sum, With Thoughts of Jason is a highly complex and equally thought-provoking novel that is both fresh and original. It makes you pause and take a moment to wonder about the cruelties of life and as you read the final words of the novel, you will be left hoping that no one will have to endure such cruelties regardless of who you are.
Reviewed by Hamdhoon Rashad for Bookpleasures.com