Review: Here's To You, Zeb Pike by Johanna Parkhurst

Fact: When Zebulon Pike attempted to climb what is now known as Pikes Peak, he got stuck in waist-deep snow and had to turn back.

That's the last thing Dusty Porter learns in his Colorado history class before appendicitis ruins his life. It isn't long before social services figures out that Dusty's parents are more myth than reality, and he and his siblings are shipped off to live in Vermont with an uncle and aunt they've never met.

Dusty's new life is a struggle. His brother and sister don't seem to need him anymore, and he can't stand his aunt and uncle. At school, one hockey player develops a personal vendetta against him, while Emmitt, another hockey player, is making it hard for Dusty to keep pretending he's straight. Problem is, he's pretty sure Emmitt’s not gay. Then, just when Dusty thinks things can't get any worse, his mother reappears, looking for a second chance to be a part of his life.

Somehow Zebulon Pike still got the mountain named after him, so Dusty's determined to persevere—but at what point in life do you keep climbing, and when do you give up and turn back?

I have to state right away that I loved this book and read it straight off, in one sitting, I also have to say that it is more YA than M/M. It is a YA story whose main character happens to be gay rather than an M/M book that happens to be YA - and I would recommend it to everyone but most specially those readers that are actually Young Adults.

This story was both sad and hopeful, and right from the beginning I was on Dusty's side. Life has been hard for Dusty, his parents are more absent than there and Dusty steps into the role of mum and dad to his two younger siblings. It is obvious from the start that Dusty adores his siblings and he thinks nothing of looking after them. Never sure whether his mum will be at home when he gets in at the end of the day, Dusty manages to feed them all as well as ensuring the laundry is done, homework is done, housework is done, that Matt and Julia get to go out to the park, that they get a bedtime story each night - the list is endless, parents could take lessons from Dusty - all the while managing to keep adults, particularly authority figures, in the dark.

It is near the beginning of the book that things start to unravel, yet we see Dusty holding on so tightly to the world he has created, the world he is in charge of. While part of me longed for him to forgo the responsibility, part of me could completely understand him not wanting to give any of it up. He knew he could look after the three of them, he knew his brother and sister were safe in his care and it doesn't matter how kind the adults were who took over that care, he could feel control slipping from his grasp. I really, really felt for him.

I like the fact that this book offered a glimpse into the life of a teenager whose world didn't revolve around his social life. He had real problems and was coping admirably with them. The interactions between Dusty and the other characters felt so real. His brother and sister adored him and this didn't go away when they were put into a stable home background, but it was so easy to feel the jealousy that Dusty experienced when someone else was doing what he thought of as his job. With his friends, first with Race his childhood friend, then with Casey and Emmitt was easy to see the teenage boy inside. In fact, one of the lines that gives most insight into Dusty's mind is about Race. Dusty says,

'Race keeps my secrets well. He's the kind of friend you can make farting noises with during lunch and still trust to never tell anyone that you almost set his mother's couch on fire in the fourth grade. I'm never sure which quality I appreciate more.'

I think this is so telling  - most 14 year olds would definitely appreciate the farting the most. Casey and Emmitt were great friends for him to find when he moved, even though it was his uncle who set that ball rolling. They let Dusty be, they didn't pry, and, as we found out, they had some understanding of how he felt - particularly Emmitt and his relationship with younger brother Casey.

I also really loved the tentative starting of his relationship. The fact that he'd accepted he was gay, but really it was so far down on his list of priorities he didn't really have time to wonder or worry about it. I personally would love another story about Dusty, one that did focus on his burgeoning relationship, especially as some of his other responsibilities have diminished. I would also like the chance to read more about his mum and how she ended up being the person she was. It's touched on, but it isn't her story so not extensively written.

The only thing that I was a bleurgh about with this book was the flashbacks to times when Dusty was let down by his parents. Personally I think it was unnecessary. I can see why these moments were added, to give us flavours of the times he coped when his parents weren't around, but honestly I think this came across well enough in the story anyway. Johanna Parkhurst had such a good way of writing that Dusty's situation was perfectly well explained without the flashbacks. Though, while I felt they didn't add to the story, they didn't take away from it either.

One last thing - the title. Zeb Pike was the mountaineer/explorer who Dusty was learning about when his world got turned on its head. I loved the comparisons all the way through to this, how Dusty related his experiences to that of Pike's and especially the question how do you know when to turn back? It was a great analogy for his life and the mountain he was trying to climb.

I really hope that lots of people read this book - especially young adults. It is a great story, beautifully written and I for one would love to hear more about Dusty and his life.