For two decades Tyler Gibbons has been keeping a secret from his family. At the tender age of sixteen, Tyler embarks on a student exchange program. Sent to the Andean city of Ambato, Ecuador, he finds daily adventure as he tries to fit in at school, connect with his host family, and navigate through a world of beaches, volcanoes, and jungles. But tucked deep inside this year are events so profound, so unexpected, they forever shape the man he will become. Now, 25 years later, his mother pulls these soaring tales from her son, exposing, for the first time, the source of a deep unhappiness. While these memories contain the wounds of an unresolved past, they also possess the power to heal his painful present. Thoughtfully crafted and boldly told, Tyler’s journey takes the reader on a wild South American adventure, while illuminating a mother’s unyielding power to heal her child.
When Tyler's father calls him to his mother's bedside, he imagines only the worst. Now his dying mother says that she wants only one thing from her beloved son. She wants to know what really happened to him when he was in Ecuador some 25 years ago. He never said much about his trip, only sending cryptic messages on postcards. Exchange trips are designed to change a young person's life, only when Tyler returned he was a shell of his former self. His mother knows that something terrible happened when he was there, but he refused to talk about it. To honor his mother's wishes, Tyler tells his story and is able to find some healing within.
The book goes back and forth between Tyler recounting his story and commentary and questions from his mother. I understand the emotional pain of being at a dying parent's bedside. I also understand the unease of sharing difficult memories with parents, especially your mother. Tyler is very brave to share the story. Even though it has been so many years, the pain is still real and in the forefront. It has defined him for over half of his life. When he finally reveals the truth, you share in his pain and sadness. I definitely had a couple of leaks from my eyes at that point.
It is truly a coming of age story, because Tyler is forced into growing up very quickly and dealing with adult feelings. I did have a hard time comprehending at times that these kids were only about 16 years old. I understand that Ecuador is a totally different culture. I was an exchange student when I was 16, only over in France. These kids got away with a lot more than we did! I also had a hard time believing that no one ever told his parents what happened. I understand that Tyler wouldn't want to talk about it, but you would think that somehow, his parents would have been notified about some aspect of it. I got hung up on that part of it.
The beginning does move a little slowly, but Tyler is telling the story of the entire year. By slowly building it up, he is establishing the relationships that he had with every member of the host family and with all of his friends. To skip over that would make you feel less toward them as their problems manifest. Just over halfway through, the pace picks up, and you easily zip through the rest of the emotional journey.
I am glad that I read it, because it is different from most coming of age novels that I have read lately. It is an interesting story. I would take a chance on this author again.
P.S. I love the meaning of this cover.
Meet the Author:Randy Anderson is a novelist and playwright. His first book was published in 2011. On Making Off recounted his adventures running The Beggars Group, a downtown theater company that produced over two dozen productions at the turn of the millennium. He is also the author of several plays including; Kill the President, The Dwelling, and Yippie! Randy currently lives in Brooklyn where he writes, reasons, and reacts. You can contact him at www.onmakingoff.com, or on twitter @onmakingoff.
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