My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I don’t know how he does it but it seems whatever he turns his hand to, Tal Bauer can produce a masterpiece of emotional turmoil which just ticks all my boxes and makes me happily raging!
This book sees him visiting college with a new age (21) pairing who really shouldn’t, on paper, have anything in common to connect them, other than their sexuality.
But from the moment Wes and Justin meet in Paris (my absolute favourite city, so this was a joy!) it’s obvious there is the potential for something special.
The thing which struck me most about this book is just how nailed on Tal gives the reader the unbelievable – and quite wrong – amount of pressure Wes is under as a closeted American Football college star with NFL prospects.
His coach piles it on, not maliciously, but it makes him live his life hiding a huge part until Paris and Justin. For the first time Wes meets someone he’d be willing to give it all up for.
Their romance is beautiful in its simplicity and its honesty, they fall fast and hard for each other but they’re also aware of the wider repercussions. At first Wes is willing to stay in the closet, and Justin is willing to live in the shadows.
But after the Coach’s responsibility speech, Wes worries about the threat of turmoil, exposure and potential danger to Justin if he comes out and he ends things.
This part of the book broke my heart as each of them suffers from the pain of losing the person you know you want to spend the rest of your life with.
There’s all kinds of sorrow and it’s intrinsically entwined with Wes’ college team’s success on the field, they’re storming their championship and scouts are calling for more than just Wes when it all comes crashing down.
And, at this point, speaking as an ex-journalist, can I just say how much I utterly despise scandal sheet reporting.
I’ve said in the past how much Tal’s books make me go OMG, so while I was expecting this book would be no different, I have to say I wasn’t prepared for the gut punch I felt when that moment happened.
It’s brutal and, sadly, all too common still even in this day. Wes’ life is upended and the consequences of him falling in love seem to be beyond repair.
However, as this is a Tal book, he somehow manages to draw all the broken pieces back together in a way which isn’t just relatable, but which feels honest and inevitable. The final few chapters are a hard fought for victory which makes it all the sweeter.
I’d have loved an Epilogue a few years down the line but, even though these two young men are only 21, their commitment and love is fixed so deep that you know it will last any challenges it faces.
Definitely one of my favourite books from Tal.
#ARC kindly received from the author in return for an honest and unbiased review