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on November 11, 2013
The plot is simple: Hazard falls in with Jesse Wesley, a cool junior that elevates Hazard's status by introducing him to the world of hardcore partying. However, the emotional journey that Hazard goes on, the identity he struggles to reconcile against rumors about his sexuality, and the relationships he develops with his new friends is anything but simple.

Aside from his irregular name, there isn't anything particularly special about Hazard, and his preoccupations reveal the high school experience perfectly, especially for a teenager questioning his sexuality. Being a sophomore and hanging out with a bunch of older, more popular kids, can he hang out with them without fading into the background? At these parties, where sexuality is inconsequential, what does it say about him that he's so taken by Jesse, despite his insistence that he's not "that way?" What does he mean to his best friend Emery, when he already has Russell? Throughout the course of the novel, we watch Hazard's mind work through the relationships he has with everyone around him, both new acquaintances and old. Just as the quote that inspires the story's title, "we all collide," this shows how one person can set off a chain reaction through other people. A very interesting concept that frames the story well.

We've all heard the mantra "show don't tell" when it comes to writing, but Lenk takes a slightly different approach with "Collide." Lenk does a lot of telling, long stretches of paragraphs that detail party scenes or display the personalities of characters. However, rather than leaving the reader inundated with information, we are allowed into a deeper mindset into Hazard's mind, and by extension other characters through his interactions. This gives even more weight to the dialogue, which Lenk does not waste on trivial points (not including the trivial details that suit the characters). This style may not be for everyone, but I thought the writing really enhanced the story.

In addition, there is a LOT of partying, which culminates in a LOT of kissing, and even some sex scenes. However, these scenes enhance the story, revealing what intimacy and sex mean in the context of parties and friends with benefits.

I really hope Lenk puts out another book, because with this writing style, and the way he creates such complex characters, it would be a shame not to let his talents come to fruition again and again.
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on May 3, 2012
Ok. I don't know where to begin. Being a middle aged heterosexual straight woman, one would not think that this book would resonate with me. One couldn't be more wrong. The story is about a 14 year old misfit and a 16 year old "cool" misfit. That is a very simplistic description.

I WAS Hazard. I know, the straight, woman thing. But I was a misfit. Like Hazard, I didn't really fit in any one group in school. I often felt completely alone and loney and unloved and unloveable and jealous that my one friend liked someone else more than me and willing to do anything at all no matter how self-destructive to gain the closeness I craved with SOMEONE. I think that is what made me so uncomfortable at times, but so deeply moved more often. I have a 14 year old son. I didn't identify this book as his story, but as mine at that age and at this age.

J.R. Lenk crafted characters with so many layers, you'd need a jackhammer to get to the delicious tootsie roll center. Hazard's eventual revelation about his mother was astounding and rarely attained at such a young age. I had a similar revelation about my mom very recently. The way his and Jesse's parents treated them made me squirm. Then I realized how much I am like Hazard's mom and how much most parents in this time in history are just like either Hazard's or Jesse's parents. The depictions could not have been more accurate.

I loved this book. I want more. I want a sequel. I want anything else penned by this author.

All that digusting fawning said, Collide is not for everyone. There was sex. There was sex between boys, yes boys not men. It was delicately handled and not graphic in nature, but still, it was there. I felt that it added to the story, but didn't take over the story. It clearly illustrated that physical closeness was the only way that Hazard and Jesse knew of to find the acceptance they needed.

The bottom line is that Collide is about the misfit in all of us. Even the cool, rich kids and their parents have at least a little bit of that desperation inside them to fit in and truly relate to another human being. It's time for a new tat. "We All Collide".
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on March 26, 2015
I find it interesting that most of the reviews here speak in terms of the principal character Hazard as bisexual. While I do not deny that bisexuality is somewhere on the continuum of sexual expression that most human beings are capable of, in Hazards case it seems more of the searching bargaining phase that many gay teens go through before coming to acceptance of who they are. These more tolerant times allow for a bit more experimentation to be sure but does not make the identity crisis completely go a way even for today's kids. Hazard is not effeminate and identifies as a boy. Still his heart (and loins) want what they want. His compulsion and longing for the Jesse, a character I found loathsome and repulsive pretty much speaks for itself.

At times I found this story line a bit emotionally overwrought but then I remembered what being a teenager was like. Hazard is a compelling character with a deep inward sadness that touches one at many points in the novel. His journey of adolescence with its constant rebelling and conforming his way to a self is one that many of us who were different can identify with.
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on May 12, 2014
Like good journalism, this story traces the evolution of meeting and an adolescent infatuation between 2 high school boys; Jesse 16 and Hazard 14. We follow their social lives wherein they have too much freedom from parental supervision at nights to party, and freedom to drink until drunk. They also significantly each have access to the other in private when they arrange sleep overs. Like a lighter body in space, the younger boy is drawn to orbit about the older and very charismatic Jesse, with whom other teens of both sexes also wish to associate. The 2 boys become friends "with benefits" (admitting to bi but not gay relationships). The mental health of the younger boy is compromised by excessive alcoholic intake, inner conflict about his sexual orientation, and both his strong emotional dependency on his older friend, and equally strong desire to be the person of first choice as companion for him. The younger boy's emotions are thrown into disarray when Jesse having graduated from school takes another man for his lover.
At this stage we are dealing not just with attraction, but with a youth in love. Both protagonists are badly neglected by their parents and so turn to each other for affection. Hazard emotionally distraught, feels the need to leave his mother, ( she and his father having separated, and she being mainly concerned about external appearances ) and he lives away from his home town after Jesse takes up with another man.
Finally, at a stage 2 years later, the 2 young men come together by choice again after leaving high school with a clear wish to be in a relationship.
In my view, the recounting of the development of the emotional relationship here, with its gradual evolution, sustained by narrative action, makes this a superior read. We are reading a love story where emotional development goes hand in hand with desire; which is to be expected in adolescent males responding to the surge of hormones at 16-18 years.
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on May 13, 2015
So it turns out that I'm in the age range of the characters. According to the timeline, Hazard is one year younger than me so I thought I could relate to the book. The plot had so much potential but it failed to capture me. The narrative read like a biography or memoir,and didn't feel personal at all. While there were relatable themes (music, shows, sex bead trends, bisexual emo and scene kids being considered "cool"), these characters were hard to bond with because...well because they were stupid. Hazard the emo kid + Jesse the rebel cool kid equated to a recipe of exaggerated teenage angst that was unbelievable, predictable, and boring. I mean it was "party, get wasted and smoke, kiss boys, sleep with jesse, argue with jesse, whine to Emery, fight with mom" over and over throughout the entire book. I swear it felt like the book extended a thousand pages, but I digress. I wanted to punch hazard in the face with his "woe is me" personality and constant pity parties. Jesse was a manipulative jerk who thought he ruled the world. The side characters had reasonable personalities that made the book readable.

One of the best parts of the book was that it reminded me of some music I needed to put on my music playlist. I have to thank the author for that....Although the constant band name drop was annoying. I made it a game to yell the song and artist, and high five my fiance every time it came up in the story.

My favorite part was the ending. Hazard got closure with his mom and jesse, and he was finally able to "find" himself....better yet, he was able to accept himself. That was pretty awesome.
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on August 24, 2012
"We all collide". It may only be a piece of graffiti scrawled on a brick wall, but, for fifteen-year-old Hazard James, it holds a deeper significance. We come into contact with countless people during our lifetime. Mostly these will be fleeting encounters that have little lasting effect, but occasionally, the collision will alter the course of our lives forever. This is precisely what happens in the case of Hazard and bad boy Jesse Wesley

Hazard is a good boy, who hates to be late for school and always does his homework on time. At least, he is until he tangles with the older, dangerously cool Jesse in the school cafeteria. For some reason, perhaps because Hazard stood up to him when so many are afraid to do so, Jesse takes a shine to the younger boy and sets about introducing him to an underworld of parties and drinking where rules cease to exist. Suddenly Hazard has gone from being invisible to the boy everyone stares at when he walks into a room at Jesse's side, and the feeling of power is as intoxicating as any alcohol.

When, at Jesse's instigation, their relationship progresses to a "friends with benefits" arrangement, Jesse assures Hazard it doesn't mean anything. It isn't as if they're gay, after all, and they're certainly not in love. Hazard believes him, so why does it start to hurt so much when they fight, or when he contemplates Jesse ditching him for someone else? By the time Hazard begins to make sense of it all, he's in too deep. He can either face up to the truth about himself, or turn his back on the boy who has become such an integral part of his life.

I found Collide by J. R. Lenk to be an incredibly honest portrayal of adolescence and all the joy and pain that goes with it. This is a hard-hitting but immensely powerful coming of age story about two damaged boys realizing their feelings for each other and discovering that actions have consequences. Words have the power to wound, and the decisions we make impact not just on ourselves, but on those around us--a lesson both Hazard and Jesse learn the hard way.

I can recommend this to anyone looking for a novel about authentic teens which, although not romanticized in the slightest, will put your emotions through the shredder.
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on October 12, 2014
A beautifully written story about gay sex between two young teenagers, the consequences of their relationship, and the life changing effects. Interesting and sympathetic characters followed through their high school years into college. The sex is well handled, more hinted at than graphic, but it does read real. Since this is a novel for teens and young adults, I think boys 14 and up would get it's meaning and enjoy the read, especially if they are struggling to understand their sexuality and mixed-up feelings. I really enjoyed the story and recommend it.
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on January 27, 2013
This is another one of those instances where I wish I had the chops to write the review that this book so deserves. I sincerely mean it when I say that Collide goes down as one of the best books I've ever read. It's raw, honest, and depressingly realistic. It left me with such a bittersweet feeling. Hazard and Jesse...together they were so sweet, heartbreaking, ugly, destructive, and so goddamn frustrating. They were deeply flawed individuals, hurting themselves and each other through stupid decisions and seemingly unforgivable words and actions. They were just incredibly, refreshingly human .

I'm sorry that I just can't find the words to describe just how much I friggin loved and hated this book. For making me want to smile like a huge idiot and then confront my own memories and truths and insecurities. For making me damn depressed, angry, and then daring to leave me tentatively hopeful.

I'm just left feeling, as another reviewer said, that I want more, a sequel (a short??), anything else this author ever decides to write.
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on October 25, 2012
Normally I hate it when people tell me a movie or book is "the best" they've ever seen or read, because my expectations raise so high that I'm invariably disappointed. Having said that, I have to confess, in all honesty, that "Collide" is one of the best books I've ever read, and I've read A LOT of books. In fact, I read it twice. This book is simply amazing!
It's an achingly poignant and bittersweet account of two painfully lonely teenagers from different backgrounds who, against their will and desire, fall desperately in love with one another.
For anyone who's ever felt the ache of abject loneliness, that palpable, overwhelming feeling that you don't fit into any group and never will fit in, you can absolutely relate to Hazard Oscar James, the main character. He's a lost, confused adolescent, feeling unloved by his self-absorbed and careless parents, who feels even his best friend since second grade is pulling away from him when they enter high school.
Jesse Logan Wesley, rich, spoiled, ignored by equally careless parents, callous and hard and just as lonely as Hazard, surrounds himself with parties and booze and frivolous pursuits to mask the emptiness in his life, and in his heart.
The lives of both boys change when 11th grade Jesse smirkingly collides with Hazard one day in the school cafeteria, inviting the younger freshman to party with him and his friends. Like two magnets, they attract and repel one another in equal measure. Thus begins four years of fights and collisions and reconciliations, and the despairing realizations of two boys who, terrified to admit they might be gay, fall painfully in love and mutual need, and over the course of many bittersweet moments of joy, agony and grief, finally come to understand that they simply cannot live without each other.
If two boys in love offends you, you'll likely not enjoy this book, especially since there are brief, but artfully rendered, sex scenes between the two. For myself, other than the aching loneliness within Hazard's confused heart, I have no personal experience with anything that happens in this book, including the wild high school partying (like Hazard, I never fit in with any group and unlike Hazard never met a Jesse Logan Wesley to indoctrinate me into the shallow masking of pain through partying). And, just so you know, the book does not appear to condone drunken binges and wild partying for high school kids - if anything, it makes that lifestyle seem sad and empty and pathetic.
However, this story still touched me deeply to the heart and made me ache for Hazard, and even feel sorry for the hard-edged, often cruel and temperamental Jesse. These characters live and breathe with painful, gut-wrenching reality and you cannot but hope for their eventual redemption.
The fact that "Collide" was written when the author was just seventeen years old makes the accomplishment even more astounding, as the writing is mature and thoughtful, sometimes bordering on the profound. My complaints are so minimal that I hesitate to mention them, but here they are: there are so many party scenes and so many characters flitting in and out of those parties that sometimes I found it hard to keep track of them. A character would resurface later in the story and I couldn't recall just how Hazard had met him or her, or even if he or she was supposed to be important. Also, there is (in my humble opinion) an intrusive and unnecessary, and very long, flashback chapter right in the middle of the book that jarringly pulled me out of the narrative and didn't really provide any necessary information that couldn't have been worked in throughout the story in more subtle ways.
Having said all this, do yourself an enormous favor: read "Collide." Get to know Hazard Oscar James and Jesse Logan Wesley. You won't be sorry you did. And if you feel too squeamish to read about "gay" boys, then you'll sadly miss out on two of the most desperately touching and memorable characters of this or any year. And that will be your loss.
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on October 23, 2012
At first glance I was expecting Collide to be another romance novel, complete with the contrived attractions, sexual tensions and the eventual happily ever after. Paper back romance is a fabrication of the love that we wished were polished, neatly packed and predictable. Collide is far beyond this, presenting a romantic conflict that is raw, gritty, and almost too believable for comfort. it's relatable, because in some form or fashion, every one knows how love hurts, and how it heals.

I was initially drawn to this book because I have read this author's fan fiction. So, from the get go I had an expectation of this author. I did notice some parallels between his fan fiction and this original work: the ability to spin a descriptive setting with a short sentence, a sensitivity to character quirks that speak so much to personality and disposition, and how a minimalist writing style can still pack an emotional punch.

Content-wise, I was initially not interested. This story is set in that awkward time in middle 2000's, where i personally cared little for the music trends at the time. The author makes a plethora of music references and if you are twenty-five of younger, you'll relate. High school drama puts a sour taste in my mouth as well. As a sidenote, you can not read this book without relating it to your own personal experiences.

But despite my reservations of a seemingly generic boy meets boy story, I pressed through for no other reason than to figure out why Hazard is such a Danger to himself and others, as teenagers are wont to be. I was very glad I was patient with him, even if his mother couldn't be. As I reached the climax of this story, I found myself hurting, physically affected by the dramatic turn of events. I realized in that moment, when I felt the betrayal, and the hollow, and my ears rung and my eyes filmed over, that I was invested in these characters. The author had done all the right things to make me actually care and I didn't even recognize he was doing it. That is exceptional writing.

This fan girl has so many feels for this book right now.

It will be the moment in the story just when you start to get impatient. There are a few times when I found some chapters and scenes to be tedious. In retrospect, the build up was necessary. And the amount of time needed to come back down from the emotional episode: you will make time for it. The first half of this book took me three days. The second half took me an evening. The ending is bittersweet, complex, satisfying and yet not all ends are tied. That is how life is anyway; no one hardship settles all conflicts, or ties everything off in a clean ending.

If you're looking for a very physical, smut laced book, this isn't it. That is one of the story's themes, since the book is about teenagers doing teenage things... but the few sexual scenes play out in a teenage manner: raw, feeling, awkward, yearning, and not entirely satisfying. But I found this too to be uncomfortably relatable. The emotion and relationship dynamics are complex to keep you more than preoccupied. They are as confusing as I remember it.

If you are a teenage boy reading this book, you will relate to the loneliness and isolation. It gets better, as this story will suggest. If you are in your mid twenties, you will look at this as a nostalgia, reflecting on your big mistakes and trying to make sense of why you did it and why you were hurting so much at the time. If you have teenagers who might be having some issues right now (hint: they all do), this book may very well terrify you.

All in all, I was surprised, and this doesn't happen for me very often. If you're looking for a character-based story that is raw, real and emotional, here it is.
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