When queerness forced me to leave home at seventeen I remember what it was like to constantly look over my shoulder. I lived with the fear that my abusive homophobic parents could be following me.

As an adult in a city far away from my abusive family I don’t often find myself reliving those experiences on a visceral level, but page after page Tomas Mournian’s hidden (Kensington) brought me back to those moments and had me looking over my shoulder.

Hidden was terrifying, triggering and without a doubt one of the best novels I’ve read in very long time.

The book is centered on the life of Ahmed a young queer boy whose homophobic parents unable to accept their son’s sexuality incarcerate him in Serenity Ridge a psychiatric hospital charged with ‘curing’ his queerness. We meet Ahmed as he’s just escapes the institution the physical effects of regular sedation and electroshock treatments still fresh on his body. 

Over the course of the novel we follow Ahmed as he escapes bounty hunters and becomes one of the lucky, taken into an underground network of safe houses designed to keep queer kids hidden and protected until people stop looking for them, or in mist cases their 18th birthdays when legally they are able to escape their homophobic parents once and for all.

The safe house, a small-overcrowded San Francisco tenderloin apartment where Ahmed is taken, secretly houses a diverse group of queer kids.  The youth each and collectively struggle to reconcile their current life on the run with abusive childhoods, religion, and familial expectation with their escape and the ever-present fear of being discovered in a raid.  Youth are kept safe by strict nonnegotiable rules about staying away from windows to avoid being seen, never going outside, seldom flushing the toilet to avoid alerting the landlord to their presence, and keeping voices low to avoid raising suspicions of neighbors.

Within the house alliances are formed between some youth, grudges between others, and even a seemingly unlikely romance between Ahmed and another boy in the house. One of the key strengths of hidden is the depth Mournian brought to each character. Too often queer youth are written as one-dimensional characters, but not here.  There is an honesty and complexity to the construction of youth seeking sanctuary in the safe house that draws readers in.  Mournian also did an exceptional job of framing the interpersonal relationships and struggles between youth in realistic, complicated, and authentic ways including drug use, and sex work without demonizing or sensationalizing the reality of the choices the youth made.

Hidden is riveting and my heart didn’t shop pounding until long after I’d turned the final page. Mournian has written a stunning debut novel. His previous accomplishments have included investigative journalism pieces into the real underground safe houses for LGBT teens who have escaped mental hospitals. While writing for the San Francisco Bay Guardian he wrote ‘Hiding Out’ an investigative piece, which won several awards and inspired a short film.  In the included author Q&A Mouenian discloses a personal connection to the topics in hidden and a life on the run saying “There is a big part of me in Ahmed. Like him, I spent years running away, and hiding. My experience was a central reason why I needed to write hidden. I hope young people who need to read hidden will take what’s useful and make good decisions.” Mournian’s connection comes through clearly in his writing and is precisely what to me makes the novel so believable and ultimately frightening.

By Tomas Mournian
9780758251312, Trade paperback
$15.00, 304 pages

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  • www.lethepressbooks.com

10 Responses to “‘Hidden’ by Tomas Mournian”

  1. TomasMournian 16 January 2011 at 10:13 PM #

    Sassafras, Thank you for your spot on review w/its remarkable generosity and insight – Tomas

  2. TomasMournian 18 January 2011 at 1:44 AM #

    Hey Antonio, thank you for asking about the blog tour. It starts with Brent Taylor’s “In the Wild” bookstore search for hidden, continuing stops through February.

    But I’m more than virtual; people can see me in the flesh, with a mini’ish reading tour staring at homo-centric (1716 Sunset Boulevard, L.A.) …

    Heading East @ B&N in NYC on Feb 24. 7 p.m., then @ Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia Feb. 25th 5:30 p.m., with Brooklyn TBA, Feb. 26th..

    I restart @ RhapsodomancyLA on April 10th, then Vroman’s Pasadena on April TBA. with more to come …

  3. Sally @ Bibrary 20 January 2011 at 9:57 AM #

    I already had this one tagged as a must-read for 2011, but this review has just pushed it a little closer to the top of my to-be-read pile. I think that last comment about being “so believable and ultimately frightening” is was so effectively captured my interest.

  4. hank henderson 20 January 2011 at 12:55 PM #

    The homo-centric reading takes place today – Thursday Jan 20th. 7:30 pm at Stories Books & Cafe – 1716 Sunset Blvd in the 90026. We’re excited about Tomas being there! check out the info at http://www.homo-centric.com

  5. […] http://www.lambdaliterary.org/reviews/01/16/hidden-by-tomas-mournian/ […]

  6. […] the story in a way I seldom am with fiction I was reading it to review on the Lambda Literary blog (you can read my full review here) but even after the review went up online I couldn’t stop thinking about what I’d read.  Tomas […]

  7. […] (signal / clue: she’d opened her purse) and I’d answered all the questions related to hidden except the third one: “What advice would you give to gay […]

  8. […] the Washington Post. The queer press has been equally enthusiastic, with positive reviews from LAMBDA, Windy City Times, and Instinct. Recently, hidden was both reviewed and nominated by the […]

  9. […] Sassafras Lowrey‘s LAMBDALiterary.org review of “hidden” here Share on bebo Blog this! Bookmark on Delicious Digg this post […]

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