Series: Adrian #1
Published by Clavis Publishing on 2008 (first published 2007)
Genres: Historical fiction, LGBT+, Young Adult
Escaping from their burdensome poverty, twin brothers Adriaan and Alexander’s family emigrates from Belgium to New York City. Unfortunately, things don’t go according to plan, and Adriaan is the only one who eventually arrives in America. Alone in the city, he becomes overwhelmed and grows homesick. But before he can prepare for his trip back, he finds a reason to stay—an American boy named Jack.
Just like the previous book I reviewed, Brothers by Ted van Lieshout, We, Two Boys is a book originally written in Dutch by Flemish author Aline Sax. I feel proud that such beautiful LGBT+ YA books like these exist in Dutch.
Anyway, I read this book in Dutch but it is in fact also published in English (and German, and it won a prize in Germany too). Which makes it all the better since I was dying to share it with all of you! The book is actually the first in a series of two books, but I’ll get back to you about that in a bit.
The story in We, Two Boys (the title is based on the poem We Two Boys Together Clinging by Walt Whitman) is beautiful. In the early 20th century many European families (especially agricultural families) moved to the United States to see if they could get lucky there. We, Two Boys tells the story of Adriaan, one of the twin brothers. With his family he moves to the States, or at least attempts to. In the end he is the only one to arrive and Aline Sax describes his feelings perfectly. Not knowing any English and without money to travel back to Belgium, Adriaan is forced to start living in New York – alone.
Then he meets Jack, and not only does Adriaan have to get used to life in New York, he also has to deal with his feelings for Jack and the realisation that he is not in the least interested in women. And what will he tell his twin brother, the one person in his life who knew him, his thoughts, every fibre of him?
It is clear Sax has done a lot of research about immigrant life in New York in the early 20th century. I admit I do not know much about it, but Sax’s descriptions are wonderful and vivid and you feel like you’re actually there. You can feel the summer heat, the crowdedness, the mix of cultures. The tough situation Adriaan is placed in, his frustrations and his loneliness and his desperation.
While the book is short, Sax manages to fit in a lot of story and a lot of descriptions without it ever getting long-winded. So it is even more amazing that she creates such three dimensional characters that you really grow to like.
I can wholeheartedly recommend this book!
Now, as for the second book. I haven’t been able to find out if that one has been published in English as well (in Dutch it’s titled Schaduwleven). The first book ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, and while the second book eventually answers the question that the last book finishes with, that’s it. The second book is still about Adriaan, two years on, but I don’t think it’s necessary to read after the first book (I’ll gladly answer the cliffhanger if anyone decides to read We, Two Boys and wants to know).
The theme of the second book also feels very different – it is more about the gay scene in New York, and the challenges Adriaan and his friends face in opening and running their own gay bar. I enjoyed the second book, but it was nowhere near as good as the first book. Had it been a standalone book, I would have rated it no more than 3 stars (but as a continuation of We, Two Boys it got 3.5-4 stars from me). So honestly, you’re not missing out if you don’t read the second book. Just go, go and read We, Two Boys, because it’s so worth it!