Michael returns from Iraq a broken man. On one hand he's full of embarrassment for his medical discharge due to loss of hearing in one ear, and on the other he's full of sorrow and guilt over the death of a close friend in a convoy raid. He returns to the small Alabama town where his mother and sister are living, determined to stay for a short while and then move on. On his first day back he meets Jay, a gay Hispanic man, who is studying at the local college. Michael is attracted to Jay, but thinks he has too many issues to deal with, as well as only recently realising that he is gay, to start a relationship with Jay. However, Jay is a kind and compassionate man who, for his own reasons, is willing to wait for Michael to resolve those issues, as well as support him during his recovery from PTSD.
There was much to like about this gentle story of loss and recovery. First and foremost were the strong lead characters of Michael and Jay. Michael's condition manifests itself as strong agoraphobia, especially when he is in a place surrounded by lots of people and noise as this leads to intense flashbacks and panic attacks. I thought the way that this was portrayed in the book both heartbreaking and realistic. I felt for Michael, felt all his anger and frustration at what he sees as weakness, felt for his low self esteem as he battles with every day tasks and finds even walking down the streets of his home town impossible, felt for his embarrassment when his friends and family see him having an attack. Yet underpinning this is his great guilt over the death of his friend who died sitting in a position in a convey where Michael would usually have sat. This guilt casts a pall over his memories of the war, and fills him with such sadness that it's hard for him to move on. As well as coping with his guilt and PTSD, Michael is also struggling slightly with the realisation that he is gay, and that he needs to come out to his family. All of this may sound like Michael's character, and thus the story, is rather heavy going. Actually, I didn't find this the case at all. Yes, when you list Michael's problems, there does seem like there's a lot for him to overcome, but the story had a lightness of touch which, whilst never dismissing or belittling Michael's problems, prevented the story from wallowing in a mire of misery.
Partly, this was due to the relationship Michael has with Jay, firstly as friends and then more. Jay, too, has his problems, first and foremost being a Hispanic man in a town of nearly all white people, and living as an 'out and proud' gay man in the bible belt of the USA. However, he sees the wounded Michael and his heart breaks for him. All through the book, Jay is there for Michael, helping him cope with life through little thoughtful gestures such as closing the blinds on a balcony to keep it enclosed, or rescuing Michael from more predatory gay men, or holding Michael through his panic attacks. It was this beautiful, tender and caring relationship which won over my heart in the story as I was absorbed in watching them meet, overcome a few difficulties, get together, cement their feelings and fall in love. Marvellous.
The other characters in the book are well drawn too. I especially liked Michael's free-thinking, flighty mother and his PTSD councillor whose wise words which rang with experience helps Michael immensely.
Although this book doesn't shy away from the harsh realities of war, and of the tragedy for both the survivors of war and the friends and families of causalities, this is essentially a book about hope and moving away from tragedy into a brighter future. I enjoyed it a great deal and would recommend this book to anyone looking for a sweet, gentle romance with the theme of the redeeming power of love. Grade: Excellent.
Eden calls this book a gift to her readers, because it is free. You can read it on-line at the link below, or Eden is also quite happy for me to provide you with a pdf copy of the book. Email me at jenre30ATgmailDOTcom and I'll send a copy to you.
Read this online HERE.