Title: Other Side of the Line
Author: Marguerite Labbe
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages/Word Count: 330 Pages
At a Glance: Other Side of the Line is a journey of love and endurance you will not want to miss. I highly recommend it to you.
Reviewed By: Sammy
Blurb: Caleb Hudson and Hal Zimmer became best friends the day they stood up against the schoolyard bully together. Life’s complicated enough with their friendship crossing racial lines in 1960s Charleston, South Carolina, but as time passes, they realize it’s more than their friendship that sets them apart from other kids. At first, Caleb denies his feelings for Hal could be more than companionship. He supports his friend when Hal admits he’s gay, but Caleb isn’t ready to face his own truth.
Hal becomes a staunch antiwar protester, and the divide between them widens after Caleb is drafted. But when Caleb returns from Vietnam, the time for denial is over. His homecoming sets off a series of events that force Caleb and Hal to confront their desires and what lines they’re willing to cross to get what they truly want out of life.
Review: It’s a tricky thing, beginning a novel with the ending. Establishing that your couple has achieved their happy-ever-after before the end of the first chapter means that their journey to that place must be both compelling to read and entertaining. One of those belies conflict that may have made for a rocky relationship; the other must guarantee that the main characters will have traits that lure the reader into wanting to know all about them and how they ended up together. It is a tricky business indeed, and I would venture to say that if you want to see how a masterful storyteller achieves all of the above, and more, then you must step into the gorgeous novel Other Side of the Line, created by author Marguerite Labbe.
In a distant era that still resonates loudly today, two boys, one white and one black, meet in a school that has been forced to desegregate in Charleston, South Carolina. The early 1960s was a violent and unstable time when standing up for a man of color could bring about the death of both the victim and his defender. But to Hal Zimmer, who has just relocated from New York, all he knows is that Caleb Hudson is an outsider just like him and those who are marginalized and tossed aside by others must always stick together. And so they do…through elementary, middle and high school, these two boys become the best of friends. But something happens to shake their friendship to the core. First is a relocation of Hal to New York and the looming enrollment in a military academy his father insists on sending his “pansy” son to once they return to their roots. The second is far more unsettling, for it is the growing realization from both boys that their feelings for each other are deeper than either of them fully understands.
As the story unfolds, we are given the chance to walk down memory lane with Hal and Caleb—now in their 70s and happily married to each other. At a late summer party, they receive an anniversary gift from their children that sparks one story after another, and outlines how these two very different men came to be partners for life. Their musings will take us from their early school days to the moment when they finally acknowledged that they were in love with each other—in between, their lives would be touched by war, separation, and, for one of them, a longing to stay buried in the closet where he would be safe but always apart from the man he loved.
For those of you who doubt there could be much to discover in a story whose ending is already a sure thing, think again. Marguerite Labbe thrusts the reader into events in history that reshaped generations of people and her two boys grown into men would be both flint and stone in this story. Sparks of anger and cries for justice would flow from Hal as surely as he breathed. Seeming to float from one cause to another, Hal was there in the front lines of both anti-war rallies and gay pride parades. With seemingly inexhaustible strength, he would rise above bigoted parents, bolstered by the love and fierce loyalty of a younger sister and the steady guidance of the best friend he would ever have, Caleb.
Nearly a polar opposite to the fiery Hal, Caleb was thoughtful and slow to anger. With a deep love for his family and a desire to remain close to his roots, which included settling down in the city of Charleston, Caleb strove to stay under the radar, never wanting to stand out unless it was to defend Hal against a bully on the playground. These two seemingly incompatible boys would find solace, understanding and an indefinable peace in each other’s presence.
I could go on and on describing these amazing characters. I could speak of the lush and vivid prose that creates the setting for each life event discussed in the book. I could remark on how I have never experienced such a rush of emotions that included true worry that these two men would never admit their love for each other in time—even knowing they’ve already achieved their happy-ever-after. I could say again and again, read this story—it is a beautiful slice of history wrapped in a love that transcends all obstacles life chooses to throw in its path. But I will leave it at this…Other Side of the Line is a journey of love and endurance you will not want to miss. I highly recommend it to you.
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