Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Poster Boy by Anne Tenino

Title: Poster Boy
Author: Anne Tenino
Purchase at: Riptide
Purchase at All Romance eBooks
Cover Artist: LC Chase
Genre: contemporary, New Adult
Length: 100k words
Formats: epub, mobi, pdf, html, print

It's all fun and games until someone puts his heart out.

After being outed to his hockey team and then changing schools, Jock figures he’s due for something good—like the sex he missed out on in the closet. Toby, the hot grad student he meets at a frat party, seems like a great place to start, and their night together is an awesome introduction to the fine art of hooking up.

Toby’s heart takes a bruising after the near-perfect experience with Jock leads to . . . nothing. He’s been left on the outside as his friends pair up into blissful coupledom, and he’s in danger of never completing (or starting) his thesis. Can’t something go right?

Then Toby’s coerced into chaperoning a Theta Alpha Gamma trip to France. Not that he’s complaining. What better place to finish his thesis and get over that frat boy? Except Jock’s outing is leaked to the press, turning him into an unwilling gay rights martyr, and he decides France would be a great escape, too. It’s a break from reality for both guys, but they soon find their connection is as real as it gets.

This book is billed as both #5 in the Theta Alpha Gamma universe and as a standalone. There were gobs and gobs of backstory, enough that I wasn’t lost coming in cold here. In fact, there was enough backstory that someone who’s up on events might feel overly-memory-refreshed.

There’s reason for the cast of thousands, but starting at the beginning properly might have made me care more about them. Or maybe leaving out the constant reminders in this book that Hey There’s Other Books And You Should Read Them. I felt quite bludgeoned with that, because frankly, the fire in the frat house did not matter a tinker’s damn to this story aside from the awkward living arrangements, but we got a rehash anyway. Every few chapters. We also got a quick recap of every other couple's stories.

The story couldn’t quite make up its mind about being an ensemble piece or focused on Jock and Toby, and if the rest of the crew wasn’t necessary for getting the frat + Toby to the South of France, I would have cheerfully done without them, with the possible exception of Tank and Danny. Beer Terrorism? Really? Brought back every unpleasant memory I had of frat parties, where the brothers alternated between fuck and run and spilling beer down your back. This motley crew didn’t seem to have appreciably different quantity of brain cells, so perhaps that’s props for accuracy.

I liked Jock most of the time: he’s conflicted, swirling in problems of his own making, and trying to find a way out that includes getting what he wants. He’s nineteen and drowning in the media hoopla surrounding a compromising picture, and he has to decide what he wants and how he feels about it. He’s fond of Toby, but he also has a head full of nonsense that requires the entire story to purge.

Toby’s twenty-five, but still a bit unclear on the concept of accountability, which makes him read younger than stated age. It’s his arc to grow up and take responsibility, and he does help reorganize Jock’s thinking while maturing his own. He has to balance Jock’s need for adventure with his own desire for permanence. Jock (or anyone) at 19 doesn’t strike me as great permanence material but I was willing to believe by the end.

The age gap seems substantial in some places, mostly because Toby has a well-populated sexual history, and non-existent in others, because Jock can be reflective beyond his years, or Toby can act like a hormonal teenager. I think in a lot of ways all the characters are good reflections of the immature but technically adult, ie, passionate but still pains in the ass to their elders.

The story is cute in places, thoughtful in others, infuriating in between. Again props for accuracy but swats for unpleasant accuracy: being the girl is probably something young gay men trying their wings worry about, but really now, can’t we get past girl=bad? The evolution of thought in places is really good writing. Who am I and how do I fit into the world are major questions for this age bracket. Toby is still working on his answers, though not as much as Jock is.

Once Toby and the frat boys get to France, the setting becomes warm and vivid. The author clearly knows and loves this part of the world, and brings us along for the guys’ discovery of it without being guidebooky.

Reading an ARC is probably adding to my irritation with the book as much as being the wrong demographic: my copy is billed as unedited, and given the approximately 15k of bloat, I would agree. Which is way too unedited for this reader’s taste. The beginning is especially choppy with introducing the large cast and at least part of the background. There’s a saying about not showing a fool a half-job, but an ARC means I’m supposed to estimate the finished project from an uncertain midway point. I can conclude there’s a good story in here 3.5 marbles.

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