As painful as it is powerful, The Dangerous Art of Blending In is not a story to be read lightly. It is one that will reach deep within, and squeeze painful fingers around your heart, making you ache with sorrow for the protagonist Evan Panos, rage with anger at his mother, and slap his father until he does intervene. It is a story about struggling with identity in a world that doesn’t readily accept you, about struggling to live up to your parents’ expectations, even though your mother will never accept you, about learning how to fight just to be yourself. Thus it will almost certainly kindle the emotions of the modern-day teenager, who will be able to identify with some, if not all, of Evan’s struggles.
Evan Panos is still coming to terms with the fact that at summer camp he kissed a boy, and he liked it. He’s gay, but terrified of his mother. Strongly religious, with a troubled past of her own (which is, obviously, no excuse for how she treats her son), she bullies, belittles and outright abuses Evan. His father, also afraid of his wife, seeks to comfort Evan in small ways – such as stealing him away to treat him to early morning donuts – but does very little to stop the abuse, or to reveal it. Instead, Evan must hide it, shrouding his bruises and cuts with lies of bicycle accidents and general clumsiness.
His only way to live is to blend in, to remain invisible, but events will conspire against him. It begins with a growing attraction to his best friend, Henry. An attraction that Henry reciprocates. But as their relationship heats up, so does his mother’s abuse, and some of his fellow students are, likewise, less than accepting. Evan’s only escape now lies in casting off his camouflage, and finding his voice in a world where he has survived by avoiding attention at all costs.
For anyone struggling in similar situations, Evan’s tale will likely be a painful but inspirational read. The author, Angelo Surmelis, is an award-winning designer and TV host, and, judging by the author’s note, although this is not intended as an autobiography, he “gave” Evan his story.
So how much of it is fact and how much fiction? I cannot say for sure, but I know that you will yearn for Evan to make his stand against his mother, to finally say “Enough”. That you will love the touching moments between he and Henry. And that you won’t want to put this down until you’ve turned that last page.
Recommended for fans of John Green, Jennifer Niven (who inspired Surmelis to write the story), and Rainbow Rowell.
Reviewed by Angela Oliver
The Dangerous Art of Blending In
by Angelo Surmelis
Published by Penguin Random House