This story was amazing and evoked so many emotions: happiness, anger, sadness, empathy. I appreciate a writer who can take me on an emotional, vivid journey through a story. Thank you, Mr. Benoit-Ledoux. This book is proof that a well-written story can reach far beyond a predefined intended audience. - Tina, New Hampshire.
I could immediately relate to the thoughts and actions of the main character, Skyler, as he struggled with reconciling his sexuality with his religion. Benoit-Ledoux realistically depicts the adverse effects that religion can have on sexuality while showing there is hope. By the end of the novel, I wanted to embrace Skyler for triumphing in an area where many still struggle. - Chris, Missouri.
Reading this story was an emotional roller coaster of joy, indignation, sadness, and hope. No matter how you identify, we can all relate to aspects of Skyler's journey. From the butterflies of first love to the trials and tribulations of high school, 'The Climb' reminds us that growing up is hard work. Benoit-Ledoux has crafted a truly beautiful story. - Josh, Nevada.
One night, while lazily surfing through X-Factor videos, I stumbled across the X-Factor UK Season 6 (2009) finale and listened to Joe McElderry's stunning (and winning) performance of the song The Climb. When I discovered that he came out shortly thereafter in 2010, I decided to temporarily name the story in my head The Climb because I know the processes of loving yourself and coming out can feel like an uphill climb to so many. (For me, I might as well have been climbing up the Matterhorn in the dead of winter.)
Over the course of the next year, I logged notes and ideas about the story in my head that wouldn't go away. Later, in March 2012, Skyler Phoenix and his journey began to take shape when I drafted the first few chapters of The Climb. In 2015, I thought the book's title might change to It Really Does Get Better, but 130,000+ words later, listening to McElderry's performance again, my heart remains settled on The Climb.
Today, I am extremely proud to share the story of Skyler Phoenix with you, a foster kid who had to grow up too fast. Forced to become part of the foster care system at age ten, Skyler managed to survive foster families made up of alcoholics and super-Christians. Today, at sixteen, Skyler and his best friend, Cameron, make plans to come out to their families but their best efforts are thwarted by the very message of love--and condemnation--that their churches preach every Sunday. Nothing prepares Skyler for the emotional damage of rejection and the forced relocation he has to endure simply because he is gay. But, as Pastor Bob often said, "When one door closes, God opens another." (Skyler would have rolled his eyes at that.)
So many of us who identify as LGBTQ grow up in religious families that make it seem like we don't (or can't) belong or fit in. Even worse, some religions can make us believe that there is something deeply wrong with us, when in fact, that couldn't be farther from the truth. I grew up in an extremely religious family. And to tell you the truth, I didn't mind it at all. I loved my church, and I loved the community within and around it. I didn't have a Pastor Bob, but the Cameron in my life did. I've always wondered what would have happened if I had been honest--at sixteen, in 1992, when we got caught--and come out of the closet to everyone.
But I didn't.
I chose to hide who I was and deny that I was gay. So, nothing happened because I feared rejection, feared disrupting the status quo, feared having everything change, and feared the unknown. I lied about who I was to everyone. I buried it deep inside and forgot about it. Ten years passed before I finally acknowledged that I was gay--talk about an uphill battle! Several more years passed before I finally decided to come out, and it was not easy. I always knew, of course, and while Skyler's story fictionally enhances some key moments of my own journey, I know there are teenagers and adults facing the same struggles that I once experienced, and the ones that Skyler has to deal with.
Now, I can honestly say that it really does get better. I would not have said that at sixteen years old. My family struggled but has come to accept me for who I am. I imagine it was difficult, and there are still some tense moments, but I am fortunate that their love trumps the difficulties. I am extremely grateful to have had my family and close friends with me on the day that I married my wonderful husband, Tim.
So, if you are struggling, if you find yourself in Skyler, Cameron, or Daren's situations, please know, there is a community who loves and supports you. It's just a matter of time until you discover it. It took me seventeen years to realize that. I pray you always have the courage to be who you are today, and no matter what any religion says, God loves you.
I wish you peace,