Publisher: Pen Press (2012)
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An engaging contemporary coming of age story, Ray Ryan by Aiden Riley, follows and is narrated by the main character, Ray. The writing style is quite conversational and very British in its syntax. As the novel progresses through Ray’s life from childhood to mid-30s, the reader will learn of Ray’s challenges and fears, hopes and dreams that create the choices he must make to find his own way.

The reader is first introduced to Ray in the year 1994 when he is still in grade school. Riley drops the reader right into the middle of Ray’s life and loves: his mother, Janet, his best friend, Kevin, and his passion for writing. While the love of writing takes a backseat for most of the story, Ray’s relationships, especially with his mother and best friend become central to the novel.

Flash forward four years:  Ray is now in secondary school, scared out of his wits because not only is his new school enormous and intimidating, but he is still one of the smallest students around. Ray doesn’t let his size dictate passiveness however, and quickly learns that standing up for himself will not only get him left alone a bit, it also feels imperative. For the first time, Ray is not in class with his best friend Kevin, which takes him out of his comfort zone. The first day in class he meets a new friend, Anna, and makes a new enemy.

The novel continues through Ray’s life and, as he gets older, life becomes simultaneously more rewarding and more challenging. For every bit of happiness there seems to be a bit of sadness or stress to maintain a balance. Ray falls in love. His father makes a reappearance in his life, and not for the better. His mother gives birth to his little sister. His friends get involved in drugs and face some hard times.

When tragedy strikes unexpectedly, Ray must learn to cope with his new reality. The suddenness of the events may be a bit jarring for the reader, but do ring true to life and how tragedy occurs in the real world. Ray’s life changes forever and, like all of us who have experienced hardship, he runs through a gamut of emotions and comes out the other end the same, but different.

Three years later, now in 2008, Ray’s life seems to be taking a new path when old relationships and feelings reappear. Ray must once again navigate tragedy, and in so doing, discovers what is truly meaningful to him. Events toward the end of the novel concerning the reappearance of Ray’s father may take the reader out of the story due to their inconsistency with the flavor of the rest of the novel.

Readers should be prepared for traumatic and dramatic events of the non-cozy type (psychologically disturbing events).  These jarring events reflect vividly circumstances that some people experience in real life and add to the novel’s overall realistic and true-to-life tone. This is a brief hiccup however, as the conclusion of the novel is both satisfying and returns to the previously established voice and feel of a contemporary literary novel.

Ray Ryan by Aiden Riley is a contemporary genre blending novel that does not follow a typical plot based structure. Rather each section highlights the important, life changing, and character building moments that the main character experiences. Riley’s characters are relate-able and authentic. There are a few of Ray’s cohorts with whom readers may find themselves desiring to shake some sense into—if only they could. At the same time, they will find themselves urging Ray on to follow his dream.

Ray Ryan is a solid debut novel by Aiden Riley, an engaging contemporary coming-of-age story.