Review: Straight Crimes by Matt Juhl

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Today’s review is going to be a little different. I usually try to keep my personal opinion out of reviews to ensure that it remains as impartial as humanly possible. A lot of what I review might not necessarily fall into my wheelhouse, but just because the content isn’t intended for me doesn’t mean that it isn’t perfect for someone else. That being said, I’ll be breaking this into two sections. The review of the book itself, and my personal feelings on it.

This review, unlike my others, will feature more than a few spoilers. I’ve tried to write this three times without giving away anything too important, but I, unfortunately, don’t know how to write around it.

There is a trigger warning for the review going forward: homophobic slurs. If this content or these themes are upsetting to you, please skip this week. I’ll see you next Wednesday for another review! 

So, with all that being said, let’s get into the nitty-gritty, shall we!

Matt Juhl’s, Straight Crimes, is a debut contemporary, mystery/thriller romance. The story follows two young adults, Nik and Harper. In this world, it is uncommon (and frowned upon) to be straight — the rest of the world is gay, which of course, poses a problem for Nik and Harper who find themselves head-over-heels in a heterosexual romance. A series of murders and tangled family histories make for a gripping mystery, leaving you wondering just how much this young couple can take. 

At a glance, this is an insta-love romance between two star-crossed lovers. It’s a quick read, with excellent pacing, and wonderful storytelling. The mystery was what kept me invested until the very end. 

Spoiler ahead: I do feel that it is important to point out there this is not a happily-ever-after romance. From what I know, romances have to have a HEA (Happily Ever After) or a HFN (Happy For Now) to be considered a romance. So, if you’re alright with having your heart ripped out of your chest, feel free to dive into Straight Crimes.

There are a few structural/story-telling issues to be had within the book that knocked it down from a 5-star to a 4-star for me. Chiefly, non-stop “head-hopping” (shifting from one character’s perspective to the other, sometimes several times on the same page). Some of the dialogue felt a bit too choppy/stilted for me. 

Beyond that, if you’re someone who takes issue with the word ‘qu**r’, this book will push you to your absolute breaking point. As someone who doesn’t particularly take issue with it, even I felt that it was a bit triggering. 

I do think that the overall message of the book is excellent – that love is love, regardless of who shares it (so long as everyone is consenting adults, obviously). I can see that Juhl’s intention was to use more familiar concepts to convey the very real opposition and bigotry same-sex couples share in our world. It’s an important theme I’m glad to see covered, and I know that, for some readers who might not have ever been exposed to these things in their personal life, this will be illuminating. For that, I do have to tip my hat to Juhl. We do need more voices speaking on behalf of compassion. 

My Review: From the Perspective of a Wild-Caught Gay

Hi, hello, in case you guys didn’t know, I’m Ivy. And I’m gay. Now that the introduction is out of the way, let’s get into the metaphorical meat and potatoes of my review. 

As a gay person who is directly affected by the ‘Q’ word, I took issue with its usage in this context. I am all for the LGBT* community reclaiming it for themselves, but something about seeing it leveled at a pair of straight teenagers felt… off. It felt a bit like misappropriating, or watering down what can be, and has been used, to put people in my community down. I wish that another word would have been chosen. Something unique to the setting that would have better encapsulated what Nik and Harper were deemed in their community. I found myself gritting my teeth through the first half of the book wishing that it would just stop being used. It didn’t upset or unsettle me because it was directly impactful to the characters (really, it didn’t seem to phase the main characters that much at all). What irked me was seeing a hurtful, derogatory word thrown around like it was candy from a piñata. It was used like a comma at times, and, frankly, it just felt like far too much.

I wish more care and time could have been afforded to both Nik and Harper as they wrestled with their sexual identity. While no two people share the same ‘coming out’ story, there isn’t a single one of us who is unaffected by the very real fear of being othered. Living in a small town, like where Nik and Harper live, it’s terrifying to recognize that you’re even slightly different from anyone else. Some people spend their whole lives in denial, hoping, praying, and wishing they could be anything other than what they are. 

I was incredibly privileged to have a wildly supportive family who celebrated me during my journey to self-discovery. My father’s only words when I shared that I was gay was, “at least I don’t have to worry about you getting pregnant.” I had an incredible home life where I felt confident in who I was. And I still had to be very careful about who I was out to. It was a bone-crushing paranoia. Worry that sometimes made me sick to my stomach. It’s not even about being afraid of what people will say. It’s the very real, all-encompassing fear that one day, you might be at the wrong place at the wrong time, and someone will let their fists do the talking. 

I feel like these themes – the most important part of the “gay experience”™ – were glossed over. It felt more like a liner note. A lighter, brighter path to the rainbow life. 

I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was a topical approach to the sticky and ugly reality of bigotry. I’m not saying that I would have preferred that this be trauma porn. Far from it. It just felt strange to me that the character’s differing sexuality being a lynchpin for the plot was more of a tangential storytelling device. Really, despite how it was classified as being ‘abnormal’ it seemed easily accepted throughout the text.

For a lot of us, our towns don’t rally in the end. For a lot of us, we lose our families, our homes, our livelihoods. What’s worse, the people who spew the most hateful things are those closest to us. Not some rogue high school bully (though, there is a fair share of those, too). 

I sat with this for a long time before writing this review. I understand that because of my own life experience, I have strong feelings about these particular themes. I read a lot of reviews, and I didn’t see very much (or any) from the LGBT* perspective. 

Overall, I do think that this was a valiant attempt at normalizing and humanizing the LGBT* community. Coming from small-town America, I know there are plenty of people who have never even met an outwardly gay person. For some, this might be their only exposure to these life experiences, as most might not reach for openly LGBT* stories. Straight Crimes being framed in a cis-hetero palatable package makes it more accessible. Approachable.  I do feel like it will be impactful. And likely, in a very profound way. 

You can find Matt Juhl: on Amazon, Facebook, Goodreads, and Instagram.


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