First things first I need to say a huge thank you to Bold Strokes Books for allowing me to view this title on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide.
*This review will contain spoilers!*
Full disclosure, I did not realise that 'Taking The Stand' was the third and final book in a trilogy until I started reading it. Normally, if I have a book for review that is a late installment in a series, I'll purchase the previous installments and marathon the series ready for my review, but that wasn't financially feasible at this time of the month, so I just decided to go ahead and read 'Taking The Stand' without any prior knowledge and see how I got on.
Surprisingly, I rather enjoyed this book! If you are already a reader of this series you'll know the general premise, but for anyone who is as new to the series as I was, this will catch you up. Our protagonist, Jonathan Cooper, is a newly out teenager living in a Christian family, attending East Bay Christian High School, meaning that he's pretty much surrounded by adversity on all sides. This constant battle has been made even worse following events at the high school dance (featured in the second novel, 'Searching For Grace') after Jonathan's boyfriend, Ian, attacked one of the members of the football team, injuring Jonathan in the process. This installment follows the trial, as it seems exceedingly more likely that Ian will be spending an inconceivable amount of time behind bars and Jonathan decides to take matters into his own hands and attempt to find witnesses to come to his defense.
You could definitely feel that this was a conclusion to something, wrapping up all of the loose ends, because not much really happened - there were no exciting events, nothing shocking or gripping or mind-blowing. However, that didn't really detract from my enjoyment of the novel. Juliann Rich has a real talent at writing fully-rounded characters, so I found myself getting swept up in the daily lives of Jonathan and his two best friends, Mason and Sketch, even though I didn't have any previous affections for them. At multiple times the dialogue between them made me laugh out loud, and they really seemed to come alive on the page, giving their own personalities to the words that they were speaking.
I was also very impressed with how Juliann dealt with such a sensitive topic area. LGBTQ books need to be dealt with well as it is, but combined with the conflicting aspect of the religion it was obviously going to take a lot to successfully pull off this plot. I'm not sure how it was dealt with in the first two novels, but in this novel it was definitely handled brilliantly. As Jonathan struggles with his beliefs in contrast with his sexuality, he has multiple role models around him throughout, and he sums it up perfectly when he says "He doesn't care who I love. He only cares that I love Him and accept His love for me". If I could give that piece of knowledge to every religious person who struggles with who they are in relation to their beliefs, I believe that the world would be a much happier place.
All of the loose ends are tied up very well at the end of the novel, leaving this book feeling like a happy ending to what I'm sure has been an emotionally wracking series of trials and tribulations. Sometimes it's nice when the characters all get happy endings, and this was one of those times - it seemed right that everything worked out well in the end for Jonathan and the rest of his friends. I was rooting for him from the start of the novel, because he was in such a difficult position, but he dealt with all of the hurdles he encountered in a very mature way, which made me have a lot of respect for him as a character.
I wish I could have read the other two books before I read this one, because I did really enjoy this third book, it's just unfortunate that it sounded so much like a standalone from the description. However, now I've enjoyed this one I'm probably going to get hold of the other two in the next few months - it'll be interesting to read it in a different order, and will definitely be something I haven't done before, but it'll be worth a shot! I do highly recommend this book if you're interested in reading about LGBTQ characters being normal people - because that's exactly what Jonathan is, a normal person; there is nothing extraordinary about him, and he's not a stereotypical gay character which makes him that much more endearing, because he's so much more realistic and lifelike. I am straight, so I can't know for sure if Jonathan's struggles are written as well as I thought they were, but it seems like the kind of things that would be issues in your every day life, and it definitely gave me an even greater respect for the struggles that people face every day of their lives, just trying to be themselves. If you haven't read LGBTQ characters before, this is also a great starting point - it's not too over the top with the romance aspect, and is much more focused on creating a wider awareness and a commentary in society for something that is often overlooked.