Eight Seconds by Jean Ferris
Each ride on the bucking bull is a lesson in pain. Each landing on the packed dirt is a jarring reminder of reality. Rodeo camp is a tough way to spend a summer, but John is having the time of his life. No clingy girlfriends, no nagging moms, no annoying sisters. Just him and the guys and the biggest bulls he's ever seen. All he has to do is stay on a bull for eight seconds. It may feel like an eternity to his aching body, but for once John feels in control of his own fate. Then he learns his new rodeo buddy Kit is gay. Shaken by the news, he tries to deal with the other guys' reactions and his own self-doubts.
Suddenly, riding a bull seems easy. . . .
This is not an easy or light reading, although it's not too heavy either. It's a nice balance of story and teenage sexuality drama. Although the topic is nothing new, I feel like the way the story was handled was fresh, making it a new and interesting story. While I really enjoyed this story, I can see some people taking issue with its not-completely-happy ending. I struggled with it myself, but I felt the decisions the author made were appropriate for the story and the lessons that John learns.
The writing is pretty easy going, matching the character, who is pretty laid back most of the time, but has a temper when his buttons are pushed. It was straight forward and well paced and overall made for an enjoyable read.
John is a likeable character, although he is flawed (he has a temper, biases, and acts like the teenager he is). But he's still a young man struggling to deal with things in his life and he acts like many teenagers do, and has to face those consequences. I think what I liked most about him is that he never complained about things being unfair or trying to take things back (even if he wishes he could). Instead he focuses on where he's at and what he needs to do—and what he should do. There are various side characters that are nice and varied, all of whom help make John who he is. I also liked Kit, even though some of the things he did/choose were just as hard to deal with as what John did/choose.
While there are some difficult things that happen in this story, and some difficult decisions that the characters make (many of which I disagree with, personally), I really enjoyed the story with its different resolution and some of the "morals" it teaches (to the main character, but not in a preachy way). I also liked the bull riding/western environment, which fit into the story without being too heavy handed in its role.
Not really a weakness, but I didn't like the ending. It was handled well, and I knew it was coming because of what I read in someone else's review, but … well, you'll have to see for yourself.
The cover that I had makes it seem like the main cast is young teens when they are actually all 18 or older. While I like the set up and the emotion behind it, I think it would dissuade younger people from reading it, which is a shame.