I like romance and boys loving boys in my books.
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I purchased this book after GRL 2014, with a fabulous coupon from the publisher, and then left it lingering on my Nook. Until 12/29, when I opened the file and started reading.
And then found I couldn't stop reading, not until I had read every word on every page, because I had to know how it would all work out. I even tweeted the author - he owes me for lack of sleep.
Kidding aside, if you haven't read this book, get to it. Do it. Do it now.
The characters Brandon Witt created in this novel are some of the most realistic, most pulled-from-real-life I've ever had the pleasure to read. Travis Bennett, widowed four years ago, raising his three kids with help from his sister Wendy, lives in a small Ozark town called El Dorado Springs. He's still grieving the loss of his wife and convinced he'll never love anyone again. The melancholy, the sadness Travis feels was evident from the start.
Wesley Ryan is the new vet in town. He's openly gay (or "swishy", as Travis calls it), drives a bright-yellow Miata and is the fodder for much gossip around town. He recently moved into his grandparents' old house, having inherited it upon their death, and is still somewhat reeling from a break-up with this long-time boyfriend who left him. He's come to El Do, as the locals call it, to find himself again.
Homophobia is rampant throughout the book. Wait, hear me out. There were moments when I wanted to shake Travis for calling Wesley a faggot, especially early on, and there were moments when I wanted to reach into the book and punch Jason (Travis' life-long buddy/friend/bro) for being a homophobic asshole, and there were moments when I had to remind myself that this wasn't actually a biography, that these were only words on a page. It was all so real.
This is the kind of story that could happen in real life. Brandon Witt's characters are real. They could be your neighbors, the people you see at your local grocery store, and he accurately describes what it's like to live in a small town, where everyone knows everyone, and everyone knows your business.
The book also showcases the apathy of most people, specifically when it comes to good old boys and their special club. It shows that despite everyone knowing what a rotten person John Wallace is, nobody does a damn thing about it, always careful to maintain the status quo while whispering the truth to each other.
But there's also change within. Change that comes over time, change that comes at a moment's notice, for example when Jason is forced to decide whether he values his friendship with Travis more than his homophobia. Change that is nearly invisible, quiet, but then becomes a force of its own once Travis opens his eyes and really sees.
I cried a few times. There were some tears. Okay, fine, a lot of tears. Okay, fine, a river of tears, with rapids throughout. Brandon Witt made me cry. So there's that.
But he also made me smile and sigh with happiness.
Travis and Wesley's first kiss - I may have swooned a little. Or a lot. That was one of the best first kisses I've ever read about in a book. The emotional connection between the two men just dripped off the pages.
Brandon showed me with his words that love will conquer all, no matter how long it takes Travis to get his head out of his ass, no matter how Wesley tries to guard himself from falling in love, no matter how many people's bigoted opinions try to deny these two men what they have found in each other.
This book is written in the third person with an omniscient narrator. Quick trigger warning - there's a scene early on that contains(show spoiler)
While I'm not usually one who likes being in different people's heads, it really worked here for me, because not only do we get glimpses into the reasons behind actions, but we also get some insight into Travis' past. Yes, there's a villain, and while this guy might be slightly one-dimensional, I actually have known people like that. He's real. He exists.
Dialogue was organic, believable. Travis and Wesley's relationship, from its tentative beginnings to the lows and highs, to their happy ending, it was all so very believable. Like it really happened.
What I especially enjoyed, after getting to know this author at GRL and via FB, was the inclusion of the author's two Corgis, Dunkyn and Dolan. Brandon, if you're reading this, I'm so sorry about Dunkyn. I know you miss him terribly. I know what it's like to lose a beloved pet. He's waiting for you at the rainbow bridge.
While there are many themes in this book (homophobia, shame, grief, gossip, hate-crimes, loss, family, bigotry, to name just a few), the overriding theme is love. Love between families, love between spouses, loving someone for who they are, loving someone despite them having hurt you, loving someone beyond their death. Loving yourself. That's the most important lesson within. Love yourself the way you are. All else will follow.
This is an exceptional author, and I cannot believe it took me this long to read one of his books. What was I thinking?
One of the best books I've read this year, hands down.