Saturday, November 21, 2009

Literary Review: "Love Yourself First"

Every so often, I come across a book that I describe as a good "train book". That's a book like black, gay author Delvon Johnson's debut novel, Love Yourself First. It's a smart, funny, fast-paced story that just might cause you to become so engrossed in its drama, that you miss your station on your way home. Set in the high-stakes, fabulous fashion world, the story centers on executive Dwight Jones, who has teamed up with his best friend, Issiah, to open up their own fashion-consulting agency, Vondel. As the business partners chase their dreams among the glitterati of fashiondom, they meet shoe designer Joan Marks, an ambitious career woman looking to stake her claim to high society and fashion. Seeing opportunity in Dwight's consulting business, she signs on with Vondel and sets her sights on fame and wealth, regardless of cost or ruined lives. Along the way, we meet other memorable characters such as Joan's fiancee Ron, who is set to marry her, but his head and his heart differ sharply on who he wants to share his future with, and Corey, who adds love and passion to Dwight's busy life.

Delvon Johnson credits the late, iconic writer E. Lynn Harris as one of his literary influences, and he sees himself as fulfilling the legacy Harris left behind for gay authors of color. Johnson hosted a Gala tribute to E. Lynn Harris last month, in which he reaffirmed his commitment to Harris' vision and works. Looking forward to the future, Johnson strives to continue the advancement of the black gay genre, to which Love Yourself First is a worthy addition. The story deals with some up-to-the-minute slices of life in the gay world, including the controversial "down-low" issue, violence among and against gay men, jealousy, and the complexities of dealing with one's own sexuality and self-acceptance. Johnson reveals the glittering, but treacherous, world of high fashion, and shows us how some people will ruthlessly crush and claw their way to the top of the industry--then suddenly realize their avarice has a heavy price.

Another aspect of Johnson's book which brought a smile to my face, were the scenes from well-known places in NYC's famous Greenwich Village. Such familiar spots as Chi-Chiz and dining favorite Manatus give authenticity and local flavor to Love Yourself First. There are some hysterically funny moments in this book, and Johnson makes the most of them. Like all good gay-genre stories, drama abounds as the divas get crazy and the fashionistas becoime fierce. There are also some very tender, human moments which give Johnson's characters depth and meaning. His exploration of the complexities we often face in our relationships as gay men is telling, yet honest. I give this first novel by a promising young author four stars. A sequel is in the works, according to Johnson, but Love Yourself First will be a tough act to follow. It's available on Author House and at Amazon.

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