I like romance and boys loving boys in my books.
You can also find me on my main blog.
This was only my second book by this author, but much like the first one, it basically blew me away.
Alexis Hall's books are like reading poetry. Each word is carefully chosen, and the story just flows like music.
I savored reading this book. Slowly. Carefully. Making sure to capture each word and every nuance.
Alfie Bell is visiting his small hometown (South Shields) for the wedding of his friend Kevin, with whom he doesn't have much in common anymore. But they were besties back in school, so here Alfie is. A question from an elderly aunt prompts him to unintentionally come out. Loudly. Because just then the music stops.
Alfie's life is in London, with a six-figure salary, a fancy apartment, a high-priced car he's wanted since he was a boy, and some good friends, one of whom is his ex-boyfriend. He feels out of place in his hometown, and while Kevin reacts positively to the inadvertent coming out, Alfie feels stifled and flees, ending up at The Rattler, a bar.
Where he meets Fen. He's never met anyone like Fen before, with the pink-tipped hair, who smells like flowers and tastes like salt and wine. They spend the night kissing and groping, Alfie is blown away by this young man, and then the truth comes out.
Alfie has met Fen before, way back when they were in school and Alfie was confused and scared and a bully, and Fen was his victim, a small elfish boy who was out and proud, and stubborn, so stubborn, who wouldn't stand down.
Who's angry, so angry with Alfie, and who won't give him a chance to explain, to say sorry, to maybe show that he's changed. Alfie was the bully, and Fen isn't inclined to forgive.
Except Alfie maybe hasn't changed all that much yet since his school bully days, but change he does in this book. Because Fen has struck something within Alfie, and now all he wants to do is make things right, whatever that means, however he has to, even if it hurts him. Even if it makes him cry.
Alfie pursues Fen. They talk. They talk a lot, about yesterdays and about today, about a cocky yet scared boy saving a butterfly, about a femme boy loving and hating his bully, about what makes them happy and what makes them sad. Slowly but surely, Fen opens up to Alfie, and Alfie opens up to Fen. And Alfie's priorities change. He realizes that he's not happy with what he has accomplished, because happy is how he feels when he's with Fen. And once he realizes that, once he realizes that he's fallen head over heels, it's no longer about Alfie but all about Fen. What Fen needs. How Alfie can help Fen. How Alfie can love Fen. How Alfie can show Fen that he has changed after all.
And still, Alfie learns. He learns that words have meanings, and that cruel words can hurt more than sticks and stones. He learns that love is selfless, and makes you do stupid things. He learns that giving up isn't an option. He learns how to ask for help. He learns that cooking vegetarian meals for Fen makes him happy because Fen is happy. He learns how to hold Fen, how to make Fen feel safe. He learns about kissing in caves, and taking risks, and being out, and trusting Fen not to hurt him.
I wish I had better words to tell you how beautiful this book is. How exquisitely the author dives into his characters, how deftly he approaches past hurt, current grief, and lingering anger, and explains their depths and their impacts on his characters. How deeply he explores the complexity of their relationship, and gives them a supporting cast that enhances their personalities and explains so much of their characters.
There are some humorous moments too, between Alfie and Fen, and between Alfie and his steadfast London friends, and with Gothshelley, a teenage girl who helps Fen in his flower shop. Her snark is strong, and I adored her. There's humor in some of Alfie's desperate attempts to attain Fen's forgiveness, going so far as offering Fen to dump Alfie's head in the loo for a change. Does Fen take him up on it? You'll just have to read this book to find out!
I loved Fen and Alfie, and I loved how beautifully their romance unfolds. How much they need each other, and how love heals them both.
Utterly gorgeous, and perfectly British. Highly recommended. Seriously. Go, get this book. Go.
** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher via Netgalley. A positive review was not promised in return. **