“I didn’t dream of hockey. I never did. Maybe I would have if I weren’t always compared to Robbie. Instead, I dreamed of a Broadway stage and dancing. Of singing show tunes and making the audience feel. Of being a star, taking the final bow at curtain call.”
Twin brothers Robbie and Tristan both play hockey on an elite team for their private high school. But Robbie is the talent, the one who will be eligible for the NHL draft at the end of the school year. It is what their father has been working towards and dreaming of their entire lives. But then Robbie tries to commit suicide and, afraid it will hurt his chances in the draft, their parents refuse to get him help, pretending it was an accident. Suddenly Tristan finds himself sharing a room with his “identical stranger,” charged with watching him at every moment, and preventing another attempt. Saddled with this unimaginable responsibility, Tristan is also trying to throw off his parents expectations, looking beyond hockey to his own dreams of acting on stage.
Robbie and Tristan have never been the kind of twins who can read one another’s minds, or finish each other’s sentences. Aside from hockey, they barely have anything in common, and even there, Tristan’s love of the sport is dimmed by the constant comparison with Robbie. But over the last year, Robbie has changed, becoming distant and quiet. But when they are forced into close proximity, the wall between them begins to crack, and Tristan starts to see that the pressure placed on them by their parents has affected Robbie as surely as it has affected him. But their growing intimacy doesn’t change the fact that Robbie needs help, real professional help, and without it there is nothing to prevent him from trying again. And Tristan cannot watch him every second of every day.
The slowly shifting relationship between Tristan and Robbie is the stand-out feature of Mia Siegert’s debut novel, Jerkbait, but friendships also play an important role. In senior year, Tristan has finally worked up the courage to enroll in theatre class, and the new friendships he forms there throw his old relationship with his long-time best friend, Heather, into sharp relief. Caught up in this new world, and grappling with his unrequited feelings for Heather, Tristan barely notices that his twin is struggling with his own sexuality until they are forced together. The intense pressure from their parents is bad enough, but Robbie is sure that he will be rejected by the league if anyone finds out he is gay, and hockey is the only thing he has ever dreamed of. Yet when rumours start to spread that one of the Betterby twins is gay, it is Tristan who takes the brunt of the bullying.
As Robbie and Tristan grow closer, the story begins to take some unusual twists, incorporating some of the tropes of twin fiction. These changes suggest that the unusual bond commonly depicted between twins is developed by their closeness rather than automatically endowed. While much of the story turns on emotion, and the evolution of relationships, the ending hinges on a twist in the action that results from the fact that—isolated in his real life—Robbie has been confiding in an older guy he met in an internet chat room for depression. However, the heart of the story rests not in these moments, but in the slow growth of Robbie and Tristan’s new, more honest relationship.
Note: Jerkbait is published by Jolly Fish Press, which will be closing on October 31, 2016. If you have been thinking about buying this title, it is only available in paperback and e-book form until that date. The audio version from audible.com will reportedly be available beyond October 31.
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