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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Titanic Summer’

Like father, like son?

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

Parents can be so weird. Take your dad, for instance: he’s got hobbies that defy logic, and he’s obsessed with them. And your mom? Well, let’s not go there, except to say that if you became her mini-me, she’d be fine with that. Irritating, yes, but what are you gonna do? As in the new book, Titanic Summer by Russell J. Sanders, whatever floats their boats.

“Your mom and I have some news.”

Those are words that no 12-year-old boy wants to hear, but Jake Hardy heard them along with everything else: his parents were getting a divorce.

‘Titanic Summer,’ by Russell J. Sanders
Harmony Ink Press (
250 pages
$16.99/higher in Canada

That was four years ago, and Jake survived, more or less. He wasn’t happy when his dad moved from Houston to Philly. He also wasn’t happy that his mom got all churchy, but he knew that his parents both loved him. He wasn’t sure, though, how they’d feel if they knew that he was gay.

Jake had, in fact, just come to that realization himself in the past year or so, but he wasn’t sure where to go with it. His conservative Christian school prohibited homosexuality, so Jake couldn’t risk being thrown off the basketball team by revealing his physical desires. He now had the whole summer to think about everything and make some decisions. 

Fortunately, he’d do that while hanging out with his dad in Philadelphia.

Unfortunately, his dad had other plans: he was a history buff who was seriously obsessed with the Titanic. He’d watched the movie hundreds of times and, to Jake’s dismay, had scheduled a 10-day father-son trip to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where some of the Titanic’s dead were buried.

That’s also where gay-boy Jake learned that his dad was also gay.

Which was just great, because it would have helped Jake a great deal if Dad had been less secretive. But no . . . instead, Jake got secrets and omissions from both his parents (which made him angry), and his bestie offered no sympathy. He found a new friend, but even that was awful. Was pretending not to be gay the easiest way to live?

Though it tends to be somewhat overly-long and overwrought, Titanic Summer is overall a better-than-average read.

Part of that may be because author Russell J. Sanders puts authentic teen language into the mouth of his main character. Sanders’ Jake speaks in the style and manner you’d expect from an attitudinal 16-year-old boy who’s trying to please everyone; that he fails, and sometimes becomes unlikeable, only enhances his realism.

Such authenticity would be nice, but the plot is too long and contains inconsequential details, as if every second of the titular summer needs recording. A few editorial snips would have kept the book from taking on water. 

Even so, that’s a minor complaint in light of the waves of enjoyment you’ll get from this story, whether you’re a 13- to 17-year-old or an adult who’s well past those years. Readers craving a nice gay coming-of-age novel will find Titanic Summer to be a boatload of goodness.

This article appears in the May 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.


Terri Schlichenmeyer

Terry Schlichenmeyer is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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