Author: L.J. Mile
Purchase at Amazon also in KU
Cover Artist: N/A
Genre: contemporary YA
Length: 141 pages
By the time he reaches college, Robert is an expert at hiding his feelings—with a few side effects. If he has a little attraction towards boys now and again, he can bury it with a candy bar and go on living the life his parents want for him. The only thing he never expected was that he'd meet someone who would like him just as he was, flaws and all. Now his emotional armor has stopped working and he'll be forced to decide which life he wants for himself.
How to break your heart in one easy step: watch a youth who’s sure love is conditional try to stay within boundaries too narrow for him.
This passage from early in the story defines poor Robert:
His mother loved him. His father loved him. Just like Jesus did—so long as he made sure he always deserved that love.
The dread of maybe, possibly failing to live up to that expectation seized him. It stayed with him until the service was over, until the entire congregation emptied out and traveled over to a nearby park for a church luncheon. It stayed with him even as he avoided looking at Jeremy Irons—or any other boys, for that matter.
Instead, he rounded the luncheon table a second time, a third time, and then a fourth. When the boys took off with a soccer ball, he sat beside his parents, nibbling on a brownie, or a piece of cake, or some of Ms. Henrietta's famous peach cobbler.
Bite, chew, swallow. Distract himself.
So by the time Robert gets to college, he’s a studious young man who’s packing a lot of extra pounds because binge eating has become his defense. He’s studied his way into a scholarship and eaten his way out of a social life, and he’s completely unprepared for his new roommate.
Pete’s a charming young man, much more comfortable with his orientation, and really fond of men with some heft to them. If Robert fails in any way to be the man of Pete’s dreams, it’s due to his insecurities, not his waistline. And oh, is he insecure.
We have only Robert’s POV, but that’s okay, we know when Pete’s upset or happy or tearing his hair out, because Robert is so focused on him. And together they have to find a way through the minefield of Robert’s fears. Pete likes Robert just the way he is. What a concept: Robert’s never met this before and doesn’t know how to handle it.
Perhaps the absolute black and white of this story is due to being YA and aimed at a demographic that isn’t good at nuance yet, but everything is drawn very broadly. Robert doesn’t eat one or two candy bars, he eats a dozen and chases them with just as many cupcakes, to the point where I got queasy every time he started eating. This may be perfectly accurate. His parents aren’t just judgy: they’re pray-you-straight Christians, horrible people, and Robert still wants their acceptance. Pete’s adorable: bouncy, kind, accepting. He’s concerned about Robert’s overeating from a health standpoint, but love handles are just a place to put his hands. He does have limits, which is good, because it’s way too possible to whipsaw him emotionally.
The path to true love isn’t easy of course, and here it includes sex, which is sometimes on page but with an extremely light touch, so something I wouldn’t feel squidgy about putting into even a young teen’s hands. (I know they read explicit stuff. I’m just not going to be the one giving it to them.) The focus is definitely on the emotional aspect of a college freshman figuring out who he is and how he can have most of what he needs.
There is an HEA, which isn’t without its costs, but the best part is that Robert not only survives paying them, he thrives. We’re definitely left happy, and so are Pete and Robert. 4.25 marbles