Title: What No One Else Can Hear
Author Name & Publisher: Brynn Stein (Dreamspinner Press)
Publication Date & Length: July 27, 2015 – 234 pgs
Young Stevie Liston is diagnosed with autism, but is really an overwhelmed empath who mentally called out for help. Jesse McKinnon heard him in a dream from clear across the country, and that dream sent him on a six-year search to find Stevie. Once they meet, they think everything will work out and Jesse will help Stevie cope.
Stevie does improve immensely, but a disgruntled coworker of Jesse’s conspires with Stevie’s estranged but politically powerful father to keep Stevie and Jesse apart with trumped-up legal charges claiming Jesse sexually abused the boy. Jesse must watch helplessly as Stevie loses all the advances he’s made.
If it wasn’t for his growing relationship with his coworker Drew Ferguson, Jesse knows he wouldn’t have the strength to fight for his rights and Stevie’s future. Drew just might be the real thing, but with the very real possibility of serving jail time for a crime he didn’t commit, Jesse’s hopes for a future with Drew might be doomed.
What I loved: For starters, I adored Stevie. It would be impossible not to. He’s hands-down the best part of this novel. Except for the “bad guys” (who I assume I wasn’t supposed to like anyway), the characters were really fantastic. We only saw everyone through Jesse’s eyes, but Jesse was so good-hearted, and it was obvious he saw value in all the people around him. I loved how despite their challenges, it was clear the people at the center adored even the most challenging of the kids. Jesse kept suggesting Stevie had them all wrapped around his finger, but I honestly saw that the staff seemed to feel the same about all the kids. I thought the barely-there romance between Jesse and Drew was well done. If it had been a bigger part of the story, it would have taken away from other important things. It was refreshing to read a love story that didn’t feel it necessary to drag out lots of detailed sex scenes that had relatively little to do with the overall plot.
What I wasn’t so fond of: I am torn on how to feel about Stevie’s “gift.” I thought the story might take more of a paranormal twist, but it didn’t–almost implying this is really a thing that happens or that it’s what autism “really” is. That seemed odd. It also played into a trope that makes me a little uncomfortable–the ideal disabled person. Stevie was “special” and almost held up to be better than the kids who really were autistic. I think we’ve reached a point when we should be able to write about disabled people without using metaphors. I kind of felt like the story was a bit disjointed–like there were several plot strands, but instead of being woven together, they were more like a series of events. I also felt that Stevie’s father was a bit of a cliche/stereotype of the Horrible Parent. (Which also plays into the caregiver-as-rescuer trope, another borderline squick for me, particularly as a parent of kids with special needs.)
Overall, I liked the story. The writing wasn’t necessarily strong, but it did keep me interested. Though as I said, I’m still processing how I feel about it in general. Still, if nothing else, this is worth reading for Stevie and for the relationship between him and Jesse. If anything, that’s the real love story in this novel.
Brynn Stein has always loved to write. Fan fiction, original fiction, whatever. While Brynn wrote in numerous genres—everything from mystery, to contemporary, to supernatural—she had always tended toward strong male characters. And then she discovered “slash,” male/male romance, and all those strong male characters were finally allowed to express their love for one another. It seems that there are always at least two characters clamoring to tell Brynn their story.
Brynn lives in Virginia with one of her two two-legged children, and two four-legged ones. Her supportive family encourages her writing and provides a sounding board for fledgling stories. When she isn’t writing, Brynn teaches children with special needs. In free time, when such a thing exists, she reads anything she can get her hands on, and haunts bookstores. She draws and paints, and enjoys the outdoors—especially if she can get to the beach—and is always thinking about her next story.