I haven’t read too many books with characters in this age range and the blurb really grabbed me so I snatched it up for a holiday read. I am so glad I did. I really enjoyed reading with Rusty Baker as the narrative (I just realized that I almost called him ‘Dusty’ Baker who was the coach of my favorite baseball team so forgive me if I slip and do that again later.). The author did a good job making me believe that I was reading the thoughts and words of a heart-warming young man that isn’t the quickest on the uptake, but he sure had it where it counted most.
Oh and I gotta say that I really enjoyed the setting of this one since I grew up right there in the NoCal foothills so I saw it all perfectly when it was being described.
So anyway, on with my summary. Rusty has grown-up in an upper middle class household in the burbs with parents who seem to only consider him as a future success story for them and a way to be connected with all the right people. His grades are mediocre as are his sports gifts, but they see Berkley grad and lawyer. Rusty really tries to please them, but at the same time he’s honest and worried that he’s not measuring up. He’s definitely not doing what makes him happy.
Fortunately, he has his sister and the kind maternal housekeeper who gives him some support. And then he makes a ‘best’ friend, Oliver Campbell, who he met as new transfer kid his senior year. Oliver is nothing like the other kids or his usual group of friends. Oliver’s looks, family background and even sexual orientation make him not potential best friend material with Rusty’s other friends or his parents, but he doesn’t care. From the moment Oliver looked on Rusty’s stupid friends with amused tolerance with that bright smile and Rusty takes up for Oliver against his friends, they are best buds. Oliver is so brilliant and bright that Rusty can only wonder what Oliver would want with a slow guy like him, but he holds tight to that friendship regardless.
At least he thinks they are until his last night in town before going away to Berkley. Oliver gives him the best kiss he’s ever had and sends him away to think about that kiss and think about Oliver. So between figuring out how to survive as a pre-law student at Berkley with a horny roommate who’ll do it with anyone and feeling so far away and alone from all he knows, he does think about Oliver and Oliver is his lifeline. Oliver helps him survive school- well survive period in some ways so when he comes home he owns up to what he feels for Oliver and that gets him thrown out of his home and disowned just before Thanksgiving.
Oliver and the rest of the Campbells are there to show him what family and love can be. Rusty embraces it and is determined to stand on his own two feet and have Oliver even if he has little to offer in return. Finding the perfect Christmas present and being able to offer something so simple as a bed are high on his list.
The plot is the coming of age and discovery story of Rusty. It was a gently paced story that brought out several emotions in me. I enjoyed how it wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t angsty either. I was a little bummed about the white people clichés since it’s not true of everyone, but I do get that some people are which is why we have the clichés. The way flawed characters grew even if it wasn’t much like Rusty’s parents was something nice. Oliver and his family are the family that everyone wants to be a part of and be friends with. And Nicole, Rusty’s younger sister, was so fun. She adores her brother and totally supports him through everything. I loved seeing the brother-sister dynamic which gave extra depth to the story.
Even though this is all from Rusty’s point of view, the other characters in the story shine through. He sees it all even if he doesn’t get the significance of what he’s seeing, but that’s what he has Oliver for. These two are such opposites, but they are adorable together. Rusty has strong principles which is amazing considering the people who raised him and he is stalwart about things though he is a tender guy when it comes to love and feeling his way when it comes to a relationship with Oliver. Rusty takes his time arriving at truths and how he feels, but he does get there.
Oliver is so patient with Rusty. Oliver is uber-smart and is academically capable of so much, but he sees the value in Rusty. He’s way ahead of Rusty about his feelings and who he wants, but he waits for Rusty to catch on. He champions Rusty and tries to make up for the lack in his life- well besides Rusty’s kid sister, Nicole who’s also there for him. I grinned with the early efforts of the two guys together. It was so authentic how they didn’t just fall into bed and achieve sexual perfection nor did the daily aspects of their relationship just come together.
So when it finished, I found myself smiling big and happy that I got to spend some time with Rusty and Oliver for Christmas. Those who enjoy slow-paced character-driven coming of age M/M Contemporary Romance should give this one a try.
Remember that 20% of the proceeds go toward charity for the Ali Forney Center.
My thanks to Net Galley and Riptide for the opportunity to read and review this book.