I like romance and boys loving boys in my books.
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As with "Ben", when this book became available as an ARC, I asked the author whether she thought I could handle it. Because I'm a wimp, and I know I can't read "Aaron" or "Spencer", for reasons.
But she assured me I would be just fine, and I was.
Anthony is Aaron's little brother, moved to the basement with the middle brother Allen when Aaron returned home after being rescued from the man who abused and tortured him. There is thankfully no explicit violence in this book pertaining to Aaron's story. But living in the basement changes Anthony profoundly.
For many years now, even though Aaron has long since gone off to college, and is now living with Spencer, Anthony has been basically ignored, neglected, abandoned, and thinks that nobody cares about him. It's all about Aaron. And now Allen has gone off to college too.
So Anthony has resorted to alcohol and pills to numb his pain, and it is thus that we meet him in this book, on his way to another party with his friend Chase. I say friend, because that's how Anthony thinks of him.
Then Chase does a horrid thing to Anthony, and it's the straw that breaks the camel's back. Anthony wants to leave. Leave his crappy town and his crappy life and his dysfunctional family.
But Anthony is still just a dumb and impulsive teenage boy, and then he does a really dumb and impulsive thing. Actually, it's a series of dumb things, out of desperation and pain. I won't go into detail here so I don't spoil things for you.
The author really packs on the teenage angst, from a boy who feels broken and useless and thinks that nobody gives a rat's ass about him. JP Barnaby shows the reader how a single horrible act can have massive ripple effects and can destroy many lives.
Things could have gone terribly wrong for Anthony, but he's ever so lucky when his car dies in front of a liquor store and is found by Patrick Mears, who owns the liquor store with his brother, Brendan.
I liked Patrick a lot. He was straight-forward but kind, and he gave off that great big brother vibe. He seemed trustworthy from the start, and even offers Anthony a job.
There's a history of violence in the Mears family too, you see, the repercussions of which affect both Patrick and Brendan, and I think Patrick saw that Anthony was in way over his head.
I liked Anthony's snark - once he came out of his shell, he was a great kid, and I enjoyed reading him, even though he had a lot yet to learn.
But learn, he does, as time goes by, and as Patrick and Brendan and Anthony figure out how to deal with their individual pain, and start to realize that working together makes them stronger, not weaker.
The author does a fabulous job letting us see into all the main characters' heads, and their actions and reactions make sense within their characterizations. It turns out that Anthony and Patrick have something in common - they both live with the repercussions of what violence has wrought upon their families. They share the exhaustion of walking on eggshells around their brothers, the constant fear that the slightest thing might set them off. In some way, they bond over that, as strange as that may sound.
I also wondered if Patrick didn't see Anthony as a way of redemption, someone whom he could help when he couldn't help his own brother. He helps Anthony build a life for himself, find friends, carve out a niche that fits him.
When Brendan and Anthony get closer, there's a lot of miscommunication and jealousy in play, something that in romance books often is overdone, but in this case totally worked. It fit their characters, especially Brendan, who hates that he can't leave his house, another ripple effect from the aforementioned violence, and doesn't think that Anthony would want him.
At this point, I was rather upset with Brendan and Anthony both for being stubborn and emo. I could understand why they acted the way they did, but man, it made me mad.
The author definitely kept me on my toes throughout, even with the mystery of "Jay" - I expected that outcome, and was glad Patrick was there with Anthony. I did cry when the truth comes out, but only because I know that while this may be a fictional account, this kind of thing happens more often than we realize. It's a terrible, terrible thing, and I would have liked to personally punch the fictional villain repeatedly in the nether regions for what he did.
I disliked the family drama at the end even though I realize it was necessary. Well, I strongly disliked Anthony's mother for thinking that after abandoning her youngest son to the basement she would have any say in how he lives his life. And since I haven't read Aaron's story, and don't understand the character as well as I maybe should, I disliked him too initially, but then he redeemed himself. I guess he heard what Anthony was saying, for once. I actually cheered for Anthony when he finally tells his family exactly how he feels and it clears the air. And Anthony gets what he wants.
While this book hints at a HEA, I would classify this more as a HFN, considering Anthony's age, and how fresh the relationship with Brendan is.
There is a supporting cast as well, even if they weren't as three-dimensional as the main characters, but they all had their purpose.
Overall, I thought this was a great story. I was engaged from start to finish, fearing for Anthony, smiling when he stops being so emo, and happy for him when he finally gets what he's wanted - something who sees him.
Well done, JP, well done.
** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher. A positive review was not promised in return. **