I like romance and boys loving boys in my books.
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Mia Kerick always makes me think. This book was no different.
When I first met Bradley Zelder, he was busy extracting himself from the bed of the woman with whom he'd spent the night, knowing that the relationship was heading nowhere, even though he can't quite seem to figure out why this keeps happening.
There's always something missing, it seems. Something that Brad has a hard time putting into words, something that he's been looking for, while he labors in his to him meaningless job as a school custodian, and works toward a nursing degree after enrolling in college number 5. He considers himself a loser, so his expectations are low, and he'd rather keep people at a distance instead of seeing them label him what he knows to be true.
Then his truck breaks down on his way home from his latest doomed relationship. A random act of kindness, from the stranger who stops and help Brad move his truck to the side of the road, blossoms a relationship that made me equally cry with emotions and smile at the sheer beauty of it.
There are some giggly moments too, but, mostly, I was swept away in the grandiose romance between Brad and Caleb, two men who are fundamentally different but fit together like puzzle pieces.
As the older man, Caleb seems to have his act together, and while Brad initially tries all the wrong things, Caleb patiently helps Brad to find himself. Caleb becomes the rock on which Brad leans to give him strength to make the changes he's needed to make in his life.
Until that moment when their roles reverse, and Brad, deeply in love, becomes exactly what Caleb needs, fighting his way out of the hole in which they find themselves.
I cried a few times. Okay, fine, I had tears in my eyes more times than I care to admit. There are moments throughout the book that throw a sucker punch, hitting you right in the solar plexus, and you gasp for air, because you are overwhelmed with the feelings. Mia's writing pulls you into the story, makes you laugh and cry and fear for her characters.
The issues raised within range from learning to love yourself (a recurring theme in her books) to finding strength you didn't know you had, to defying outside sources that want to tear you apart.
What didn't work for me was the plot line about Angela Creedy, who's portrayed as Caleb's close friend, and whose character was one-dimensional. I resented her portrayal as a raging lunatic, thinking that Caleb, an out and proud gay man, who's been married to a man before, who lost his husband a few years ago, would miraculously fall for her if it weren't for Bradley taking up space. Her behavior was flat and cardboard-like, and her involvement in one of the major plot points made me angry, and cost this book a higher rating. I found it hard to believe that she could be that delusional, especially since we hadn't been given any indication that Caleb even thought of her in any way as more than a friend. I also thought that Caleb's inaction pertaining to Angela's subtle and not-so-subtle attacks on Bradley were wrong, and I couldn't understand why he wouldn't stand up for the man he's falling for.
There were other women in the book too, namely Brad's mother and sister, both warm and supportive, Brad's friend Billy's girlfriend, Amy, who had a minor role, but was nice enough, and Caleb's mother, who with Caleb's father, exemplified the differences between Caleb's upbringing and Brad's childhood. These women all helped Bradley to some extent, and I enjoyed how they were portrayed, even if they weren't fleshed out, considering they function as the supporting characters.
The author fully explores the differences between her two MCs, but also highlights the areas in which they are the same, and thus makes them both wonderfully rounded individuals with prominent and not-so-prominent character traits that mesh really well.
There were times when Caleb sounded a bit stuffy and slightly condescending, older than his age, and initially, I had a few doubts that the relationship would be equal. Brad occasionally sounds younger than his age, but Mia Kerick gave us good reasons why he felt stuck the way he was, why he had the issues he had to address, and why it took him some time to come into his full potential.
There are numerous sweet moments in this book, and they are the kind that make you smile. What stood out for me the most was Brad's transformation throughout - that was a joy to behold.
Written entirely from Brad's first person POV, we don't get all the insight into Caleb's mind, and a lot of times, Brad has to interpret what he sees on Caleb's face, but there's sufficient info shared to make the reader understand the character. What we do get though, is a full picture of Brad's inner workings, how he sees the world, how he sees himself, how he berates himself for his behavior but can't seem to change it. We see the wonder he experiences as he makes small changes, encouraged by Caleb, and finds his footing in the world, finds his place, right where he belongs.
** I was given a free copy of this book by its publisher. A positive review was not promised in return. **