Author: Elliot Wake
Published: December 6 2016
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Vlog star Renard Grant has nothing to prove: he’s got a pretty face, chiseled body, and two million adoring video subscribers. Plus the scars on his chest and a prescription for testosterone. Because Ren is transgender: assigned female at birth, living now as male. He films his transition and shares it bravely with the world; his fans love his honesty and positivity.
But Ren has been living a double life.
Off-camera, he’s Cane, the muscle-bound enforcer for social justice vigilante group Black Iris. As Cane, he lets his dark side loose. Hurts those who prey on the disempowered. Indulges in the ugly side of masculinity. And his new partner, Tamsin Baylor, is a girl as rough and relentless as him. Together, they terrorize the trolls into silence.
But when a routine Black Iris job goes south, Ren is put in the crosshairs. Someone is out to ruin his life. He’s a bad boy, they say, guilty of what he punishes others for.
Just like every other guy: at heart, he’s a monster, too.
Now Ren’s got everything to prove. He has to clear his name, and show the world he’s a good man. But that requires facing demons he’s locked away for years. And it might mean discovering he’s not such a good guy after all.
Elliot Wake is a talented, unpredictable author tackling harsh contemporary stories. He is one who doesn't shy from taking his diverse, realistic characters to dark places in the course of unveiling a dark plot. Though I have not read every book he has so far published, the two I have had the pleasure to read (Black Iris before this) have been introspective and action-filled genrebenders; distinct and memorable reads that easily bridge topics like social justice, gender, patriarchy, toxic friendships, rape culture, and misogyny. The author's keen wit and intelligence shine through in Bad Boy's writing and in its plotting; this is a whirlwind of a read from start to ending.
Loosely connected to two other books by Wake published before it (Black Iris and Cam Girl), Bad Boy is really the story of Ren, a transgender Vlog activist cataloguing his transition. People central to the other novels make up the surrounding cast that Ren knows, works with, and loves in Bad Boy: Blythe and Laney and Armin play key roles, and Ellis too is a noticeable supporting character. Ren, as the narrator and main character is particularly what makes this novel so memorable and feel so real. Elliot Wake handles Ren's life and transition and all its changes and emotions with both innate knowledge, care, and sensitivity. Ren is allowed to be more than a label, more than just his gender or his surgeries or his sexual orientation; he's a whole person, made of happiness and anger and love and depression. He's a complex character; one allowed to grow and change and evolve.
It may be somewhat on the short side of contemporary novels at less than three hundred pages, but Elliot Wake can pack a lot of story into those chapters. The events in Bad Boy build naturally if outlandishly, the plot thickening as Ren uncovers new threats and finds new allies in his drive for vengeance. Things in this story tend to happen quickly: emotions are charged, revenge is on the line, and betrayal is always possible. It's a hard story to predict -- the main plot may verge a tad too convoluted at times, but it's such a thrillride to see how the author concludes the in-flux storylines. I also loved how the author interwove several of Ren's vlog/dialogue within the regular narrative; it allows for another side of both Ren and the story to slowly emerge.
Bad Boy boasts a lot about it to love: the great, authentically diverse and original characters combined with a strong and dark plot can take a story far. However, Elliot Wake is also a beautiful writer. Unflinchingly honest and real in approach, his stories are not lighthearted but they are told in unique, vibrant, visual ways. Ren's story is not one so easily dissected; his feelings about society are nuanced and influenced by his unique POV on culture, which is why it's wonderful to see an own voices author creating this must-read genrebender. Bad Boy is dark and introspective and angry and righteous and compelling and unforgettable.