Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Dyeing To Be With You, by Sisco Polaris. Illustrated by Edesk.
North Charleston, SC, CreateSpace, December 2015, trade paperback $12.00 (193 pages), Kindle $4.00.
Dyeing To Be With You is a teenage m/m romance, full of adolescent angst. Lucas, just entering Calder High at 14 years old, was the only polar bear there. The other students, all black bears, bullied him viciously, particularly the sadistic Kalvin. Lucas was a bit of a crybaby, so he took it more emotionally than he should have. He was very happy when his father was transferred to Riker’s Bay and his family left Calder.
But now his father has been transferred back to Calder, and Lucas faces returning to Calder High and its bullies for his final year of high school. He’s grown a lot while he was away – he’s 17 and nearly seven feet tall now — but he’s still emotionally weak, too dependent on his older sister Anna.
“Anna’s baby brother – that’s who he had been all his life. Not that it was a bad thing to have a big sister looking out for him. She had always helped him when he needed it. Of course, she had gotten him into a lot of trouble, too. A baby brother was a fine scapegoat when you work together to steal cookies, or (more lately) when you are sneaking out to go on a date, and you need someone to cover for you with your parents.” (p. 13)
When Anna gets a trainee job at a beauty salon, Lucas gets the wild idea of dyeing his fur and passing as a black bear during his final high school year. Anna scoffs at first, then takes it as a challenge.
‘Yeah sure, a new seven foot tall black bear. Besides, you wouldn’t just need black.’ In spite of herself, the female bear’s mind was working it over. ‘They have light brown on their muzzles.’
‘Well, I’m sure you have light brown dye at the salon,’ the male bear replied, a sly smile coming to his face. It was a crazy, insane idea, and he knew it, but it could work. After all, it was just a year, and then he would be out. He could let the dye fade out naturally, or even take a dip in some dye removal solution.” (p. 13)
They are abetted by Anna’s lively superior, Mrs. Nesbitt, who helps dye Lucas’ fur.
“‘Oh my, what a big lad you are, and so polite, too!’ the black bear said with genuine cheer in her voice as she put the brush down and walked over. She touched his shoulders and gave him a close look. The young bear blushed deeply as he was inspected. ‘Ah, a fine strapping young man. Of course, size never stopped bullies; they don’t have to hurt you to hurt you. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will hurt your spirit.’” (p. 28)
Lucas needs to be dyed all over. He hadn’t realized what that meant.
“He yelped as his sister suddenly ran a comb down his sheath. Nobody had touched him there as long as he could remember. Despite his discomfort at his own sister’s touch, his teenage body tingled at the attention.” (p. 31)
After a tense confrontation with his reluctant parents, Lucas gets permission to go ahead with his plan. Lucas is so keyed up on his first day at Calder High that he almost sabotages himself, especially when he finds his locker is near that of a panda named Charlie who turns out to be a friend of Kalvin. And the upbeat Kalvin determines to welcome Lucas (or “Luke”) to the school. Even Kalvin’s most well-meaning efforts, such as his attempt to get Lucas onto the school baseball team, pose hazards.
“‘Great,’ Lucas muttered half-heartedly. His plan to lay low and sail smoothly through his last year had not factored in participation in any team sports. It wasn’t so much the playing that he was worried about, or even the rather poor attitude of the team’s captain. His mother would insist on coming to every game he played and try to drag the entire family with her. Explaining why there was a family of polar bears cheering him on, oh so very loudly, would be difficult.” (pgs. 89-90)
Lucas finds out that Kalvin had a reasonable justification to be cruel to him when they were younger, which he’s matured out of. During his own growth from 14 to 17, Lucas’ sexuality has also developed. He’s turned out to be gay, which he hasn’t come out to anybody about yet. And guess who he is attracted to?
“Halfway through the first movie, the cola finally took its revenge on Kalvin. The warmth was suddenly gone as the black bear stood up whispering urgently, ‘I gotta pee.’ Lucas leaned back in his chair so Kal could slide passed [sic.] him. For a wonderful moment, his friend’s pert rump became his entire world. The soft, tempting mounds mere inches from his face, a strong hint of his musk filling the bear’s nose. He could all but taste the beautiful posterior taunting him, and the urge to lean forward and grab the delicious black mountains with both paws and pull the black bear down onto his lap was so strong he felt his paws move.” (p. 114)
Also guess how Kalvin responds to this. The scenes where they get together – at least two whole chapters — are definitely NSFW.
The questions remaining to Lucas are how to tell his family that he’s gay, and how to tell Kalvin that he’s really that geeky polar bear wimp that he used to torment. Like I said, adolescent angst — pages of it. But at the end, a happier finale than Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
Dyeing To Be With You (cover by Edesk) is a funny-animal novel. There’s no reason why the characters couldn’t be humans instead of bears. Polaris handles the description of them as brown bears and polar bears (and Charlie as a panda – he’s Asiatic-American) nicely, but he undercuts this by too many real human references. There are real video games like Battlefield and Call of Duty; baseball teams like the Yankees; states like Alaska and Texas; movies like the Back to the Future trilogy; candy like Snickers and M&Ms. But if you don’t mind a shallow furriness, some poor proofreading amidst the generally good writing, lots or realistic teen male dialogue with four-letter words, and a lot of explicit teenage gay sex in the last half of the novel, you’ll enjoy Dyeing To Be With You.