Two South Jersey boys find love in this beautifully wrought debut novel from New Jersey native James Acker.
Rising senior Sebastian “Bash the Flash” Villeda is a popular track star at Moorestown High School, which has allowed him to get away with being a jerk for years. Grieving the death of his mother, Bash won’t let anyone in—not his hardworking stepfather, his ex-girlfriend, Luce, or even Matty, his supposed best friend, whom Bash can’t stand hanging out with anymore. Bash is weary of his tough-guy facade, but he doesn’t know how to change it. He’d rather sprint away from his feelings than face them.
Enter Sandro Miceli, whose shot put is as good as Bash’s 200-meter dash. Cruelly nicknamed “the Italian Yeti” by his classmates because he’s tall and hirsute, Sandro also struggles with the deep-seated anger issues he’s developed due to the behavior of his oppressive, insensitive family. He is terrified that his homophobic father and brothers will find out that he’s gay, and he dreams of attending college out of state, where he’ll be able to love who he wants without his family knowing.
When Bash and Sandro connect at an end-of-summer party, all of that begins to change. During the year that follows, what starts as a genuine friendship leads to romance and forces the boys to explore aspects of themselves they both hoped never to confront.
The Long Run is a raw, emotional love story anchored in two journeys of self-discovery. Sandro knows who he is: an angry, neglected softy who can’t stand up to his family, which he describes as “a screaming match in a crowded restaurant personified.” Meanwhile, Bash only knows who he doesn’t want to be: a high-profile athlete who gets roped into fistfights with kids from the rival track team.
The most honest bond the two boys have is with each other, and Acker handles every aspect of their relationship with great care. His frank depictions of their sexual interactions are particularly well done, with awkwardness and enthusiasm that feel romantic yet realistic. There’s plenty of humor, too, including excellent banter that’s resplendent with New Jersey vernacular and slang.
The Long Run is a stunning novel about two boys who discover happiness and hope in the unlikeliest of places: each other.