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This was a difficult read for me. While the assault in this book is not one of my triggers, I feel I must warn you to heed the blurb and be aware of what happens in this book.
This was a difficult read. It had to be even more difficult to write, so hats off to Jamie for managing to depict this horrific topic and its aftermath with honesty, integrity and respect.
When we first meet Derek in this book, he comes across as a nice guy, however brow-beaten into nothing more than a doormat to his fiance Tim, a selfish, uncaring, and jealous prick. Their relationship seems cracked, with Derek making excuse after excuse for Tim's behavior, while refusing to see what's right in front of him.
There were also some things in Derek's background, in his youth, that had serious consequences on how he viewed himself, his romance with Tim, and subsequently what happened to him.
What the author did here was build a believable character with sufficient background to make him realistic in his actions and thoughts. Derek seemed real to me, while Tim and Victor (Derek's boss) almost appeared to be one-dimensional - one a selfish prick, the other a near psychopath without remorse, justifying his actions much like any rapist or rapist excuser does. Victor triggered immense rage within me, and not just because of the assault, but because of his behavior before and after. He's a bully. He only thinks of himself and his image, he thinks that everyone wants him, when he's nothing more than an insufferable, disgusting pig.
Then Derek has to go to Tampa with Victor, who also for some inexplicable reason is his best friend. Their relationship appears to be based on friendly rivalry, working out together, and nothing much else. I didn't understand what Derek found interesting in Victor, or why he thought of him as his best friend.
The assault happens while Derek and Victor are in Tampa. For some reason, and this niggled at me and is part of why the book didn't reach 5 stars, they're made to share a room. It almost seemed to me as if Victor used company funding as an excuse to be alone in a room with Derek, as if he had planned this ahead of time.
Derek often comes across as clueless to other people's motives and intentions, possibly a result of his childhood, and seems to trust easily.
The actual rape and immediate aftermath of the assault were difficult to stomach, even though it is not dragged out in the book, and does not, even for split second, seem to be explicit simply for titillation purposes. It was tactfully written, honestly written, respectfully written.
What struck me most was the self-blame Derek falls into, and the self-hate that immediately followed, tinged by the words of his stepfather still ringing through his head. He displays all signs of having been assaulted, no matter how hard he tries to hide it, and it speaks to Victor's and Tim's selfishness that neither sees nor cares that Derek is different.
Russ Thomas, the police officer who lives next door to the cabin Derek and Tim purchased early in the book, doesn't take long to figure out that Derek experienced some horrendous trauma, even though he doesn't know for a while just what kind of trauma. Attracted to Derek from the moment they met, even though he wouldn't poach on an existing relationship, he becomes a shoulder for Derek to lean on, and then more, as the truth comes out.
The author did a good job establishing a solid characterization for Russ as well, even though the switching POVs didn't really work too well for me, especially early on, when Derek and Russ aren't even on page together. This became easier to handle as the two men start to hang out, no matter how tentative and scared Derek still is around Russ, and then went away completely, when their relationship gets stronger.
There were some things that niggled. The depiction of the HR rep for one - I found it difficult to believe that this was realistic (and maybe I'm naive), but the reaction of HR to simply fire Derek without having any substantiated cause, and being given a completely different account from Derek, seemed a bit far-fetched. Derek's termination seemed to be more designed to keep the small fish from making any waves, and thus protecting the reputation of the company. This then follows the company's decision to room the men together to save money, which, while realistic enough on the surface, could then put the company in a position of having to defend itself for causing the situation that allowed the rape in the first place.
Tim's characterization, and his subsequent actions after Derek flees to the cabin, also fell flat for me. I couldn't for the life of me understand what Derek saw in Tim to begin with, but after that it was even more difficult. He seemed petty and insecure, and while I'm sure I was supposed to dislike him, I also felt that his character wasn't given any reason for acting the way he did, and thus fell flat for me.
I'm glad to got to watch Derek put the pieces of his life back together, with Russ' gentle support, and I'm glad we got to see their romance blossoming, with patient care and soft approaches. I'm glad that Victor got what was coming to him, and that Tim seemed to lose out as well. There is a hopeful tone at the end, and the sweet, tender romance between Derek and Russ is made stronger by what they endure to get to that point.
As I said, this was a difficult read. I'm sure it was difficult to write as well, but it's a book that needed to be written. The most important message in this book is that men can be raped, that it happens more often than we'd like to think, and that many, many men never report the assault because of shame and fear.
Just like women victims, men don't ask for assault either. They are not assaulted because they walk down the street in short shorts, or shirtless, or because they're drunk or passed out, or because they are out late at night by themselves. Men are raped for the same reasons women are raped - because the rapists have no respect for anyone else, and because their rapists feel the need for whatever reason to exert power of their victims, by holding them down, by forcing them to give up something that is sacred and should never be taken - the right to control their own bodies.
Yes, this was a difficult book, but I'm glad Jamie Fessenden chose to write it. I'd be even more happy if you chose to read it.
** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher. A positive review was not promised in return. **