I like romance and boys loving boys in my books.
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I read a draft version of this book a few months ago, and couldn't wait to read the finished product as well. The changes made were mostly subtle but made a difference.
Thomas is a gay man in his early fifties living in Mississippi. Once the drummer in a band, known for a one-hit-wonder, he has for many years longed to foster and eventually adopt a child. With recent law changes, and marriage equality being the law of the land, Thomas has begun his journey to foster parent and adoption prospect.
Having gotten to known the author via his FB page and watching him take a similar journey as his character only enriched my reading experience, as did the fact that I'm a foster parent myself.
Thomas' first (and long-awaited) placement is a young special needs boy who lost his mother in a tragic fire, and whose father is not in the picture since birth. This boy was born without arms, apparently a genetic condition, and requires additional accommodations and modifications to Thomas' home, which Thomas is only too glad to provide.
The author paints an accurate and at times painful pictures of what fostering a child can be like. It's not an easy choice to open your home repeatedly to children not your own, many of whom have experienced some form of trauma and need love and consistent commitment, and special needs children are notoriously limited as far as placement options are concerned. Not many foster parents can accommodate a special needs child, and many of these children are living in group homes with overworked staff. Most foster homes, in my experience, don't want to take placements for the kids that need help the most.
Fostering a child take a lot of love, patience, and a willingness (determination) to stay committed for as long as needed and/or possible. What these kids mostly need is stability, routines, and the experience that an adult in their lives is in their corner, protecting and nurturing them. I clearly remember my foster trainer drumming this in over and over - all children who are in foster care have experienced some form of trauma, and they need love and understanding and compassion from their foster parents.
As with all his books, Nick creates characters that are fully developed, characters the reader comes to love and in some cases hate. Thomas' lover Randy, still mostly in the closet, runs an art gallery downtown and support Thomas in his endeavors, to the point where he's willing to leave Narnia and exit the closet. I liked him a lot - he was a perfect counterpoint to Thomas, and while their relationship is not that of your usual romance novel (and this really isn't a romance anyway), the two men complemented each other well, and were supportive of each other throughout.
Another tidbit of foster care is that most child protective agencies and family judges will favor blood family over foster/adoptive families, in some cases to the detriment of the child. Many times, the foster home is likely a more stable environment, but blood relatives will trump fosters most of the time.
And so it happens in this book, when after some months of living and bonding with Thomas, Jeremy's father suddenly enters the picture and demands custody. The fact that he lives in a different state has no bearing on this, nor does the fact that for most of Jeremy's seven years of life, he was absent and paid not a single penny in child support - as the biological father, he gets "first dibs". And yes... that is one of the most painful parts of fostering - the simple fact that child could be sent from your loving home into a much worse situation because of a blood relation taking precedence.
You can surely imagine the heartache and pain Thomas experiences as he realizes that the child he planned to adopt will be taken from him, and there is not a damn thing he can do about it.
And I could completely understand how despondent Thomas was over the loss of this child, and how he felt like giving up. That he doesn't is fortuitous, and only due to Randy's prodding to visit Jeremy, which sets their happy ending in motion.
The author handled this difficult topic very well, and it is my hope that this book will open the eyes of many to the overwhelming need for foster homes in this country, and how messed up our system really is. Advocates are dearly needed, and there simply aren't enough homes open to these children, who've often seen abuse in its many forms. While Thomas' story ends on a very happy note, and while this is the desired and best outcome he and Jeremy both could have hoped for, it is also fact that even when children are reunited with their birth parents after foster care, many of them re-enter the system again at a later time.
Some people aren't fit to have children.
I should probably apologize for the preachy tone of this review, and I hope that Thomas will forgive me for using this review as a soapbox to help open your eyes to the plight of children in the foster system, and maybe even open your heart to consider the option of becoming a foster parent yourself.
It's not an easy job, no. But it's worth the heartaches and pain, because at the end of the day, you will have helped a child in need.
As I write this review, there are two children asleep in my home that we are fostering. Each day is a new adventure and a new opportunity to do right by those whom life has wronged through no fault of their own.
If you're so inclined, please check out The National Foster Parent Association to learn more about this invaluable service these caregivers provide.
This book is about a topic so near and dear to my heart, and so beautifully explores the wonder and pitfalls of fostering and adoption, I cannot help but give it all the stars.
** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher. A positive review was not promised in return. **