Desert Isle Keeper
This is a sweet, gentle romance and in my opinion an important book.
For those of us who have gone before.
Your stories will not be forgotten.
Wyatt’s mother is in failing health due to Alzheimer’s, so he, his sister and her fiancé are moving her into an apartment. They hope it will be easier for her there than at the large family farm. While at the farm, Wyatt finds a photo hidden between the ceiling beams and insulation. This photo is obviously old and pictures two men sitting either side of a table. There is a nervousness about their expressions and the candid nature of the portrait calls to Wyatt. He approaches the local historical society to see if they can shed light on the photo and those pictured.
Help comes in the form of Grayson, a trans man and very well qualified historical researcher. Grayson works part-time in a deli and part-time at the historical society, as neither job is well paid. However, history is his joy and despite being disowned by most of his family when he transitioned, he strives to keep his skills and love for history alive.
After a slightly disastrous first date, mainly due to Wyatt’s awkward behaviour, Wyatt decides to try again and makes the big decision to explain by coming out for the first time as genderqueer, to Grayson. During an emotional conversation Wyatt asks that Grayson uses the gender neutral pronouns – they/their/them – as I shall from now on, where relevant, in this review. Mutual interest in the lives behind the photo binds the two closer, as they begin a relationship which allows them to be themselves.
There is something so intimate about the bond between Wyatt and Grayson that made me feel grateful to be allowed into their world for a while. The plot is set against the backdrop of family and financial worries, but together, Wyatt and Grayson face both with tenderness and love. Grayson has an accepting brother with two little girls who love Uncle Grayson, and Wyatt’s sister and Mother know they are attracted to men, but not that they are genderqueer / nonbinary.
Generally, people react badly to what they don’t understand. I think readers are the same and they avoid novels, even romantic ones where they do not understand the protagonists. Documenting Light shows that love is between people and that queer people are not to be feared. It is sad that lovers and their stories should have to be explained. However, showing by example in enjoyable romantic novels like this will maybe help, and reduce the concern often displayed in a currently heteronormative society.
Grayson and Wyatt, by searching for answers regarding the two men in an old photo, reveal to the reader the reality of being erased from history and often abused in life. There are some beautiful insightful passages – like this one where Wyatt wonders how Grayson will react to them –
When it came to trans people, he usually knew, no matter how stealth, real or passing. Like he’d been reaching out for something for so long, he didn’t realize he still had his hand extended until someone reached back…
Unease settled on him when he thought about the way some binary trans people were toward nonbinary trans people like him. Would Grayson see him? Geeky, unsure, but also with a nice smile, pretty hands – and Wyatt liked to think he was funny…
Or would Grayson just see a man in a dress?
The story of their search for information about the photo is interwoven around their love story, family troubles and what Grayson has had to endure in his young life for being true to himself. The author doesn’t harp on about this, but rather, slowly reveals the consequences of his family’s abandonment and its impact on Grayson’s life.
Their research becomes a method of revealing themselves to each other, whilst revealing hints about the treatment of queer history, women’s history and the history of people of colour and marginalised backgrounds. It was fascinating to read about the enormity of history while enjoying the intimate, small story of two people falling in love.
I said that I felt this book is important – I do. If people fear what they do not know then this gentle sweet story can give any reader an insight into what it is like to live and love, as an ordinary trans / queer person in the twenty-first century. More than that, it urges the reader to consider what it is like to be erased from history. Indeed, women are now re-claiming their part in the past and there are Queer history programmes but mainly at University level only.
E.E. Ottoman expresses this perfectly, through Wyatt –
“All I want…” Their voice was soft. “…is the possibility that there is a space for people like me to exist in history too. To have a past. To look back with pride and say people like me lived and loved and endured. That’s all I want.”
I loved this story, this romance, and the truth behind this novel. This author has my admiration and the book my highest recommendation.
Love truly is Love, Romance is Romance and everyone deserves to have their stories told.