When introverted Ethan Fawcett marries Barb, he has every reason to believe he will be delivered from a lifetime of solitude. She fills his world with a sense of adventure, expanding his horizons beyond his comfortable routine. Because Ethan fears becoming a father, one day Barb brings home two young brothers, Tommy and Sam, for them to foster, and Ethan immediately falls in love with the two boys. When the pandemic hits, he becomes obsessed with providing a perfect life for them. But instead of bringing Barb and Ethan closer together, the boys become a wedge in their relationship, as Ethan is unable to share with Barb a secret that has been haunting him since childhood.
Katie Hafner’s taut and utterly delightful debut is a novel of multitudes. It is travel escapism, a family drama, a character study, social commentary on pandemic isolation and an incredible journey back to center. We are emerging from a period of forced introversion, and The Boys provides the perfect antidote. For anyone who now feels anxious about leaving the house or traveling abroad or re-entering the world, you will find, as I did, a kindred spirit in Ethan Fawcett ... From the breeziness of Hafner’s prose to the approachability of Ethan’s voice, the reader is lulled into a sense of safety, believing that Ethan has worked through his childhood troubles, has found his strength and stay in Barb, and will ward off any midlife crisis with mature confidence. In a character-driven narrative as well done as this one, I certainly expected Ethan’s worldview to be shaken — but no amount of preparation could have prepared me for what Hafner had up her sleeve ... Deftly and brilliantly, Hafner unfurls all the ways in which Spock-like Ethan will be tested ... There is a surprise at the center of this book, so original and unusual that I stopped pushing forward for a day to reread the first half again and check for inconsistency. Hafner doesn’t miss a beat ... In the hands of a lesser writer, the heartfelt family comedy-saga could have faltered, but Hafner remains in total control throughout. I cannot say more without giving the story away, so I will just say this: What a wonder of storytelling. I will be thinking of these boys for a long time to come.
Curious ... I can’t offer much evidence for my assertion without revealing an extravagant plot twist that Hafner takes great pains to conceal for more than half the novel ... Mystery and misdirection are great when they have a point, when they turn the screws and yield a satisfying resolution. But Hafner conceals Ethan’s behavior for one reason only: to mislead the reader and create artificial tension. The deception does nothing to enhance the ostensible story about childhood trauma ... Instead, preservation of the twist comes at the expense of the narrative, precluding intriguing and valuable discussions about the pandemic that as a society we need to start having as we try to process the past several years. Some of these questions do get raised obliquely, but they’re not explored more deeply in order to preserve the charade ... But if you like your fiction full of oddities and don’t overthink every narrative decision, go ahead and toss The Boys in your beach bag.
The charming, witty love story between solitary Ethan and 'people person' Barb in The Boys includes a plot twist that invites an immediate reread and will have readers looking for the 'aha!' clue that reveals how Katie Hafner so thoughtfully constructed her first novel ... Likable characters whose flaws are limited to an excess of love and compassion flourish in a plot that journalist Hafner infuses with details from her years of science and music writing. The novel also possesses a generosity of spirit for Ethan and Barb--and a well-deserved, heartwarming affirmation of their love. -