I like romance and boys loving boys in my books.
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I knew going in, given the blurb and cover image, that this would be a tearjerker.
And it was.
But it was also a story of hope, love, and family, and fighting for your child's life with everything you have and everything you can, even if it means stepping on people's toes and pushing your way through whatever red tape the insurance companies will throw at you.
When Julian Holmes' son Robbie is born, via surrogate, with a heart defect that would require surgery and a donor heart to save his life, Julian begins the fight of his life - to save his child.
While still in the hospital, he meets Simon Phelps, who is the insurance coordinator. Simon is gay and still very much in the closet, but falls hard and fast for the reclusive author.
With finesse and heart, J.P. Barnaby delivers a story that is at once heart-warming and heartbreaking. With fully fleshed out characters, and a well-rounded supporting cast, A Heart For Robbie tells not only the story of a father fighting for his son to live, but also gives us a sweet love story between two men who are both very lonely, but unsure how to find what they are looking for.
Though the romance itself takes a backseat - it develops, it is, it causes some issues, but it's never at the forefront of the book. Reading this book as a parent myself was difficult - to imagine the fear, confusion and pain of being told that your newborn child might not live for but a few months, that your little innocent baby needs a donor heart to even make it to his first birthday, that you might not even get to take him home.
Julian was very realistically portrayed, and if you know J.P. well enough, you would know that his character's experiences, feelings and thoughts are likely modeled very closely to her own story. That in itself, knowing this while reading, was enough to make me cry. There is so much sorrow between the lines, so much pain and grief, that it was at times a heart-wrenching read.
Simon was also well done, fearing the reaction of his family and friends if he were to come out, fearful of it being held against him at work, and scared to live outside of the closet. The burden of keeping your sexuality a secret has to be crushing, and I'm glad that Simon found his way into being himself, being who he is.
Considering the not so small issue with the professional ethics of having a relationship with the father of a patient, which caused a big issue toward the end, I was rather surprised that Simon decided to pursue Julian despite his misgivings. It smacked slightly of instalove, but I'm a romantic at heart and believed that sometimes, you find exactly who you were looking for, even if the circumstances aren't the best. And that kind of love doesn't come along all that often, so you should grab it when you find it, and fight to keep it.
The writing flows well, is detailed but not overly so, and the words painted a realistic and believable picture of a terrible and terrifying situation. I was glad that Julian at least had supportive parents and friends, and I even forgave him for being not so nice to his friend, who was also the surrogate. She had a horrible experience just the same, but I understood that Julian's focus was on Robbie, so much so that conventional niceties were no longer important.
I also enjoyed the similarities between the two characters - one out and proud, but terrified and stricken by fear and grief, the other in the closet, terrified of being found out. Their love story also provided a much needed reprieve from the ordeal Julian and his son are going through, and it was woven nearly perfectly into the main storyline.
It's not an easy book to read, and I wouldn't recommend it as a fun summer beach read, but it's a book well worth your time. For every sad moment the author breaks your heart, she's also giving you another happy moment to make you smile, and never loses the focus of her tale - that of hope, love and a parent's fight for his child.
I very much appreciated the epilogue, and closed the file on my Nook with a smile.
And yet, I cried because I wish that the author herself had gotten that sort of happy ending too.
Thankfully and luckily, in this book, Julian has the means to pay for the medical expenses - so many others don't.
** I received a free copy of this book from the author. A positive review was not promised in return. **