Review: Love Lessons by Heidi Cullinan

love lessonsRating: 4.75 stars
Buy Links: 
 Amazon | All Romance
Length: Novel


It is Walter Lucas’ junior year at Hope University and he is stuck with nowhere to live after his apartment fell through.  The school requires on campus housing and the only options left at this point are pretty grim.  Walter ends up settling for sharing a single room with an allergy-laden freshman in the jock dorm as the least of all evils.  At the least the guy is listed as open to a gay roommate, so things should be fairly smooth between them.

Kelly Davidson had expected a single, so he is pretty surprised to find out Walter is now sharing his tiny little room.  Part of Kelly is glad to have a roommate after all. He is pretty shy and nervous about school.  Kelly wasn’t out in his small Minnesota town and is already finding college overwhelming.  But Walter is outgoing and confident and pretty much a major hookup king, so part of Kelly is a little freaked as well.

As it turns out, Walter takes Kelly under his wing right away and the two become fast friends despite their differences.  An attraction grows between them, but these guys want such different things.  Walter is looking for some no strings good times and has no interest in a relationship with anyone.  And Kelly is the ultimate idealist, looking for a Disneyfied true love and happy ending.  But somehow the more time they spend together, the closer they grow, and a real relationship begins to form between them.  But even once they are together, things are not easy.  Walter has serious family issues at home, with a demanding family who just takes from him and never gives.  Kelly’s family faces financial problems that threaten his security at school.  And Walter must accept that he truly deserves someone like Kelly and face his fears so that he and Kelly can be together for good.

I am a huge Heidi Cullinan fan and I just loved her newest offering.  I so adore a young love story and these guys are just amazing together.  When we first meet Walter, I thought we were going to get the traditional “I don’t do relationships” kind of story with Walter hooking up all the time and the conflict centered around him being not able to settle down.  But I shouldn’t have doubted that Cullinan gives us far more complexity here in both Walter and Kelly.

Walter’s family is a total mess, with a mother who is needy and depressive and leans on Walter to take care of her far too much.  His father, on the other hand, has little time for Walter as he is off with a new woman and basically pays lip service to their relationship in the form of a fat bank account. Despite his tough exterior, Walter is a total caregiver, which is why his mother is able to take advantage of him so much.  As soon as he meets Kelly, Walter goes in to fierce protector mode, committed to helping Kelly settle into school and looking after him.  Poor Kelly is a total allergy-laden mess and needs to be incredibly cautious about what he eats. And Walter is like this mother hen, taking on the cafeteria staff to be sure Kelly gets his soy milk and non-contiminated spatula for his tofu scrambles. It is crazy sweet to see them together, especially because Walter seems to have no idea that he is even doing it.  My heart just aches for him as this sweet young man who hides behind a tough exterior lest anyone see his need inside.

Kelly is also an interesting character. He is a shy Minnesota virgin and came to college ready to finally be out.  But Kelly is also an idealist, looking for a real boyfriend and a perfect happy ending.  Everyone tells him he is being unrealistic, that a gay 18-year old should be hooking up and having a good time.  But Kelly knows what he wants and doesn’t settle for less. Although he becomes more confident, more living in the real world as the story continues, Kelly never sacrifices what is important to him — his family, his relationship with Walter, and his goals.

This is a fairly long story, and I appreciate that we get to see the slow development of the romantic relationship between these guys.  I love the way it sort of sneaks up on both of them.  Walter is totally hot for Kelly, but at the same time knows that he doesn’t want a relationship and cares too much about Kelly to screw that up.  And Kelly is attracted to Walter like crazy, but knows Walter can’t give him what he wants. All the while, the two are basically boyfriends without even quite realizing it.  It is sort of adorable, and I loved seeing these guys finally recognize that they can have exactly what they want from each other and finally go for it.  So I didn’t mind the slower pacing here and I liked how we get to see them after they get together as well as they work through their issues.  It is not all smooth sailing, and Walter especially has a lot of emotional baggage that threatens what they are building together. And I loved seeing how Kelly learns to be strong and take care of Walter and not let him drift away on his own fears and anxieties.

As I said, this is a long story, and the only place I think things could have been tightened up was in the subplot surrounding Walter’s teacher and advisor, Professor Williams.  Williams is the closest to a real parent that Walter has, and they have an incredibly close relationship.  Williams knows about Walter’s family issues, he understands his fears and worries about Kelly, and is a true confidante that Walter desperately needs.  When Williams job is threatened, Walter and others work hard to try to save it, and this takes up a lot of page time that for me didn’t always seem necessary.  I think the critical issue here is showing how important Williams is to Walter and how his potential loss would affect him.  But I am not sure so much detail about the intricacies of their efforts to save him was really necessary to get that point across in an already long book.  I also found myself a bit confused on the epilogue. The main story ends with some uncertainty on how things will shake out for the guys the coming year, and it is not completely clear from the epilogue how exactly it worked out.  We do get a really great wrap up for them, but I just didn’t totally understand exactly what was going on with the guys in terms of where they are living and what exactly they are doing.

So truly, I thought this was just a wonderful story.  Everything I love about a young love romance, with two guys just figuring out what they want out of life, of love, of relationships. It is a time when they are still kids in some ways, entangled in their families for both good and bad.  But also a time where they are spreading their wings and growing into the people they want to be. And Cullinan really gives us the best of that in Love Lessons. It is warm and sweet and romantic (and even a little sexy) and Walter and Kelly are just fabulous characters.  Definitely highly recommended.

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