I like romance and boys loving boys in my books.
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I picked this up on a whim on Netgalley where it was offered as a Read Now from Harmony Ink.
Mason (Mace) is a freshman at college. He keeps to himself, he has no close friends, because he thinks he doesn't deserve any.
He supports himself by being having sex for pay with a specific clientele - he poses as a submissive in ads, seeking not the sex, which does nothing for him, but the pain his clients inflict. Mason believes that he deserves the pain, as a punishment for killing his younger brother. Guilt, shame, and grief are crushing him slowly, to the point where he has cut off even his parents, because he cannot look them in the eye, knowing he's to blame for Jamie's death. This is his coping mechanism, and it's a very destructive one.
The story, short as it may be, packs a huge emotional punch. Mason broke my heart. He's so sad, so alone, and he won't let anyone get close to him, not even Dex, the RA in the dorm where he lives. He doesn't understand why he can't feel sexual desire, why he isn't sexually attracted to anyone. He had a girlfriend in high school, but even with her, he felt nothing. His focus is on his atonement for his brother's death, even if it was an accident - Mason feels responsible, and therefore deserves whatever his clients dish out.
There's a scene about 25% in that sets the plot in motion, and I was thankful that the author chose to not be explicit about what happens to Mason. The aftermath was difficult enough to read.
From there, Mason enters a massive downward spiral, drowning his pain by binge-drinking alcohol, forgoing classes, and basically hiding himself in his dorm room. He is fortunately given help in the form of Dex, his RA. He feels oddly safe with the slightly older man, and while he still keeps his secrets, Mason allows himself to spend time with Dex. Their relationship forms slowly, with two steps forward, one step back.
Mason eventually gets an understanding of his sexuality - he's ace - and I thought this was really well done here, showing the reader how he craved cuddling and intimacy, but not the sexual acts. He learns that what he thought was abnormal really isn't, and that's a huge step on his way to recovery.
This book is dark and somber for the most part, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried a few times. I wanted to reach into the book and help Mason, help him see the truth, help him find his way back from the darkness. I was thankful that he had someone to look out for him, someone who got him the help he so desperately needed.
The book ends on a very hopeful note, and I felt that Mason was in a much better place by the end than when I first met him. The story has a rather realistic feel to it - it's absolutely feasible that someone's guilt, anguish, and shame would drive them to do what Mason did here. I only wish that the real Masons out there were all given the same help book Mason received. Sadly, I don't think that's the case.
Heed the warnings - this is dark, this will break your heart, but it's worth it. Go on this journey with Mason. Not recommended for younger teens, but young adults 16 and older.
** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher via Netgalley. A positive review was not promised in return. **