Black Sheep: Loving in the Present certainly isn’t a book for the faint-hearted. Powerful and hard-hitting from the outset, it pulls no punches, confronting readers head on with the harsh reality of the situation in which the protagonists find themselves.
Kia Zi Shiru is attempting something incredibly brave with this series in tackling what many might consider a taboo subject, that of the high suicide rate and tendency to self-harm inherent within the Goth culture. Yet, she does it in a way that manages always to be compassionate and never once judgmental.
Black Sheep: Letting Go of the Past saw Vic and Jack taking tentative steps towards building a relationship as Vic battled his addiction to self-harming. By the opening of Book 2, Vic’s deteriorating mental state has him confined to a psychiatric ward.
He is unaware that, beyond the hospital walls, Jack has been made homeless after his parents discovered the truth about his sexuality, or that his close friend Adam is growing physically weaker as his health fails. Through it all, Vic’s big sister Anne juggles her responsibilities, working tirelessly to support her loved ones whilst bringing up her young son.
Beneath the pain and emotional drama, this is essentially a story about love. Displayed in its many forms, love remains the one constant throughout, shedding light upon even the grimmest scenes. Anne’s love for her family is the glue that holds it together, while her developing feelings for Jack’s older brother provide her with some much-needed respite.
For Jack, his love for Vic gives him something to cling to in the midst of the nightmare and offers him hope for the future. Most importantly, it’s Vic’s affection for Adam that initially spurs him on to get better, and his love for Jack which may well be what finally pulls him through.
It would be wrong of me to say that reading this novella was an entirely enjoyable experience. There is little let-up from the conflict and heartache that assaults the reader on almost every page, so if you’re seeking some light relief, I would perhaps avoid the series altogether. For all its darkness, however, there is something compelling about this story. These characters and their complex struggles will surely tug at your heart, and, once they have wormed their way under your skin, I defy anyone not to want to follow their journey to its conclusion.