Tallis Carrington never expected to come back to Rock Bay, Washington. In high school he was wealthy, popular, and the son of the town mayor. He was also a total jerk, arrogant and mean and bullying to others. His family left town in shame after a scandal involving his father and Tally planned to never return. But now he finds himself out of a job and out of options, and is returning home to stay with his grandmother until he gets back on his feet.
Tally knows his reputation is bad among the town, but he is unprepared for how much hatred still lingers. But Tally is a changed man, totally different than the obnoxious teenager he was when he left. After facing hard times and doing a lot of growing up, he just wants to get his life back on track and bide his time until he can afford to leave town once again.
Lex Barry is one of those kids who faced Tally’s bullying back in high school. Overweight and awkward, Lex was a frequent target of Tally and his gang and was terrorized for almost a year before Tally left town. When Tally comes into Lex’s coffee shop looking for a job, Lex’s first reaction is flat out refusal. Even all these years later, his wounds are still very raw. Lex is shocked to realize that Tally doesn’t even recognize him due to his drastically different appearance and different first name. But Lex also senses Tally’s sincerity that he is a changed man who just wants to find a job and get along. So against his better judgement, Lex agrees to hire him.
It turns out that Tally really has changed and is actually a great employee, hard working and courteous with the customers. He handles the many haters with dignity and just tries to fit in. The men become friends, as well as quickly becoming attracted to one another. Lex finds himself falling for Tally against his better judgement. After the horrible way Tally treated him when they were kids, his family and friends can’t believe he is opening himself up by getting involved. Not to mention that Tally is planning on leaving town as soon as he can. Even after Lex comes clean and tells Tally who he really is, things still burn between them. The men continue to build a relationship, falling in love and building a future.
Things aren’t all smooth, however. Although Tally begings to win over some of the townspeople, a reappearance of his absentee mother opens old wounds. She abandoned him quickly upon finding out he was gay, and is unhappy to see Tally back in town where she feels he will affect her reputation. Tally’s mother reinforces his feelings of not belonging and being unwanted. Things are further complicated when Tally’s old gang of friends track him down. Most haven’t changed since high school, continuing to be lecherous, homophobic assholes and Tally wants nothing to do with them. But as a favor to a friend who wants to come out to them, Tally agrees to hang out with his old friends just long enough to tell them he himself is gay, hopefully smoothing the way for Drew to come out as well. But the more time Tally spends with them, the more hurt Lex finds himself, and the more worried Lex becomes that Tally is back to his old ways. By the time Tally realizes what he is doing to Lex and his relationship, it just might be too late.
I think this story really explores an interesting dynamic with its focus on high school bullying. This is such a serious problem for so many kids, and I like how the book never shies away from portraying just how horrible Tally was at the time. He was a bad person, and we, Lex, and Tally himself have to face it. The story also brings up both the issues of forgiveness and redemption. All Tally is looking for is a fresh start and a chance to prove that he is changed. Not many people in Lex’s position would be able to see past the pain of his youth and recognize that Tally is a different person now. So I really enjoyed this dynamic to the story.
I did feel like the pacing was off a bit with this book, however. The relationship with Lex and Tally builds slowly but steadily throughout most of the story and this is the focus of most of the book. Lex’s acceptance of Tally comes fairly quickly and they settle into a good realtionship early on after Lex reveals the truth about who he is. But it felt like the conflict then comes very late in the story and a bit out of nowhere. Tally has been in town a while when suddenly his old friends descend. The idea is that they didn’t initially know where to find him, which is why they don’t show up sooner. But in a town this small when Tally is the most notorious resident? And he is living with his grandmother who they can easily find and working in a public coffee house? I just couldn’t buy that they didn’t know how to reach him before and so the conflict felt like it sort of appeared at the last minute.
I am also not sure I felt that Tally’s behaviour was all that believable. He wanted absolutely nothing to do with his old friends for the entire time he was in town, yet he is so easily convinced to go along with Drew’s plan and gets sucked back in with them so quickly. I get that he is feeling wounded from his mother’s attack, and that the adoration these guys throw at him is helping his ego and his confidence. But Tally is so in love with Lex and so clearly happy with his life it’s hard to see why he risks that for loser guys he hates. Not to mention that they continue to be truly HORRIBLE to Lex, and Tally just sits there and lets them call Lex names, stil not willing to come out to them. I just had a hard time getting why he would allow himself to get drawn back in with these jerks, even if he doesn’t realize right away what he is doing. It just made me mad at Tally when I had previously been feeling so supportive of his attempts to turn his life around.
Despite these concerns, I did really enjoy this story. It was very sweetly romantic and I just loved Lex. He is adorable and good natured and willing to open his heart up to someone who may not deserve it. And I liked seeing Tally find his way and accept that it may not be easy to put his past behind him, but still being willing to try. Overall it was an enjoyable story.
Be sure to stop by M.J. O’Shea’s guest post where she shares more about her writing with us!