Title: Skylar’s Salvation
Author: Nicole Dennis
Length: 100 pdf pages, 18,104 words.
Publisher: Silver Publishing
Genre: m/m contemporary romance
Skylar Deering has suffered from schizophrenia since high school. Despite feeling safe with boyfriend Ben Radclyffe, Skylar slides deeper into his private hell. When Skylar enters a special clinic, he wonders: will Ben stick by Skylar’s side as promised?
Ben Radclyffe is a teahouse owner who sees a young man wearing colorful scarves come in for a cup of tea and pastry. He sees him count his money with care, but he sits in a corner to stare into the distance or speak to someone who isn’t there.
Skylar Deering has suffered from schizophrenia since late high school. Even with Ben, who sees beyond the hallucinations, delusions, and voices, he continues to slide deeper into his private hell. When he finds himself in a special clinic, Skylar digs deep to climb back to recovery. Skylar can only wonder: Will Ben, the one man who didn’t turn away from him, be there, sticking as he promised, when he comes out?
I chose this book because I was interested in seeing how the author (whose writing I’ve never encountered before) would handle such a challenging, poorly understood mental health problem. I had great difficulty deciding on a grade because this is one of those books that I have very mixed feelings about, and certain issues with the writing itself really frustrated me. However, I have to admire the author’s bravery and accuracy in portraying paranoid schizophrenia, and there were some genuinely sweet moments that made me feel warm inside.
The blurb is deceptive as the first part in italics makes it seem as if the book will be written from Skylar’s perspective. In actual fact it’s all from Ben’s, and we don’t get a very clear idea of what’s going on inside Skylar’s head. Also, the whole clinic incident is towards the end of the story, and at least half of the book is taken up with their first day together.
Ben has apparently been observing his gorgeous customer for some time, but not yet spoken to him (it’s left unclear why). However, when he sees Skylar selling himself to a violent group of young men outside his shop, he runs outside to help. Lucky for Skylar, Ben is a martial arts expert and sees off the thugs in a few effortless moves. Even more fortunate, Ben is a natural helper and he takes Skylar in to patch him up. Ben isn’t fazed by Skylar’s conversational non-sequiturs and arguments with non-existent beings, as he had a schizophrenic uncle himself. Unable to let the vulnerable young man leave for a night of sleeping on the street or prostitution, Ben offers him a place to stay. A permanent place.
This was my first real problem with the story (aside from my issues with the prose): Ben makes an immediate decision to live with someone who has a serious mental illness. He hasn’t yet seen Skylar in a lucid state, so has no idea what he’s really like. I can understand why he does it and I suppose there’s a part of me that finds it romantic, but the bigger part considers him pretty naive. He seems to be thinking with his dick and his heart, but not with his brain at all. Fortunately the author didn’t take the easy way out and let it all be roses from here on. Skylar continues to slide into psychosis, and eventually Ben has to have him committed to a clinic. Unfortunately this is right towards the end of the book, and Skylar’s healing takes place entirely off page. I felt like there was enough material for a novel here, especially if we’d been able to experience Skylar’s narrative point of view.
My biggest problem with the story is definitely the writing, though. The whole story felt like it was in need of a good edit. Not only does it abound with clichéd descriptions and clunky—not to mention confusing—sentences, but the characters often end up talking like people only ever do in books. For example, here is Ben confronting Skylar’s trick:
“I’m someone who happens to give a shit about others. Let him go. Turn him over to me and I may let you walk out of this alley with your pride intact.”
“I don’t think so, you irritating bastard. Jump him, guys,” Jerry ordered.
Fortunately Skylar’s fractured speech is much more compelling and gave a pretty realistic approximation of how paranoid schizophrenics really do talk when in a psychotic state. It’s clear that Nicole Dennis has researched the condition extensively, and I was pleased to see her deal with many of the common fears and misunderstandings people have about schizophrenics. We are shown various different states of dissociation and delusion, and Skylar is clearly far more of a danger to himself by self-harming than he is to anyone else. He has also used prostitution as a pragmatic way of dealing with his lack of cash, which is another real danger for those with serious mental health problems.
I want to finish this long review by talking about a few of the things that really shone in this story. Skylar himself is like a bright gem, and his character provides most of the moments. There’s a lovely scene where he traces over Ben’s tattoo to discover the scars from childhood surgery. Also, his strange babblings really captured my imagination, as did his patchwork quilt made from scarves, and his love of SpongeBob plasters. He’s a compelling mix of childlike innocence, flirtation and opportunism, and a truly memorable character.
In short, for all its faults this story definitely made a strong impression on me, and I won’t forget it in a hurry. I hope more m/m authors are inspired to write about characters with serious mental health problems, as I’d love to see this theme dealt with again.