HANDMADE HOLIDAYS, ISBN 9781947904354, 82 pgs, $2.99 (Kindle, no print edition)
‘Nathan Burgoine, NineStar Press
PREMISE: (From Goodreads.com)
At nineteen, Nick is alone for the holidays and facing reality: this is how it will be from now on. Refusing to give up completely, Nick buys a Christmas tree, and then realizes he has no ornaments. A bare tree and an empty apartment aren’t a great start, but a visit from his friend Haruto is just the ticket to get him through this first, worst, Christmas. A box of candy canes and a hastily folded paper crane might not be the best ornaments, but it’s a place to start.
A year later, Nick has realized he’s not the only one with nowhere to go, and he hosts his first “Christmas for the Misfit Toys.” Haruto brings Nick an ornament for Nick’s tree, and a tradition—and a new family—is born.
As years go by, Nick, Haruto, and their friends face love, betrayal, life, and death. Every ornament on Nick’s tree is another year, another story, and another chance at the one thing Nick has wanted since the start: someone who’d share more than the holidays with him.
Of course, Nick might have already missed his shot at the one, and it might be too late.
Still, after fifteen Christmases, Nick is ready to risk it all for the best present yet.
MY RATING: Five stars out of five
MY THOUGHTS: ‘Nathan Burgoine’s new holiday-themed novella is a beautifully-crafted story of chosen family, kindred spirits and the old edict that “timing is everything.”
It’s almost a trope now that we LGBTQ+ folk love to build our own families. Even those of us whose birth-families accepted and encouraged us still build families of the heart to supplement our family of the blood. But for still too many LGBTQ+ people, the chosen family is the only family they have, built up through common experience and shared hobbies when their birth-families have abandoned and disowned them. This is where Burgoine picks up Nick Wilson’s story. We know just enough about Nick’s birth-family to know they exist and that they have thrown him aside because he’s gay. In some other hands, this story would be about a happy holiday reconciliation with the family that abandoned him. But Burgoine is not afraid to start with the hard truth that for some in our community that reconciliation never comes, and let the story develop from there.
Nick’s family-of-the-heart doesn’t appear miraculously on winter’s breath with traditions full-blown. The first Christmas, with only Haruto and candy-cane ornaments, is full of uncertainty and anxiety. It’s also imbued with just a touch of bravado and a healthy camaraderie that let us know right away: while there may be drama and heartbreak ahead, this is not a sad story. It carries the hope that “it gets better” from the first paragraph. Over the first few chapters, and thus the first few years’ worth of developing holiday traditions, we get to see Nick become comfortable with who he is and the family he’s building around himself. Matt, Fiona and Perry bring out different sides of Nick, from the protective to the argumentative. We get to know them as Nick gets to know them, and they are all engaging and interesting. Even the supporting characters who are on stage for far less time (and some of who are far from likeable) are at the least interesting.
Of course, there wouldn’t be much of a book without complications, distancing, and misunderstandings, and all five of these core characters experience their share. Burgoine heightens that drama by occasionally letting more than one year go by between chapters, allowing for lots to have changed within the group dynamic without having to show us every incremental step in those changes. This time-hopping (but never flash-backing) technique keeps the reader engaged, keeps us wondering what new changes will become apparent with each new chapter, much as we might wonder what news the latest “Christmas Letter” is going to bring from old friends we only hear from once a year.
The novella spans fifteen years in the life of Nick and his friends, experiencing losses and gains. It reads fast and easy, another reason I love ‘Nathan Burgoine’s work: he gives us deep characterization and emotional stakes without dragging the story out any longer than it needs to be. If there’s a personal or sensory detail missing, it didn’t need to be there to begin with. The end of the book comes too fast (because we’ve come to love these characters and don’t want to say goodbye) but also not too fast (because the story has reached a natural, happy, end-point without being forced). I can’t recommend Handmade Holidays highly enough, and it is definitely going on my annual re-read list.