Review: Carry the Ocean by Heidi Cullinan

carry the oceanRating: 5 stars
Buy Links: 
 Amazon | All Romance | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

Emmet Washington has had his eye on his neighbor, Jeremey Samson, but he isn’t sure how to approach him. Emmett’s autism makes social interaction challenging at times, and he isn’t good at recognizing facial cues or reading body language.  Emmet also doesn’t even know if Jeremey is gay, though his hoping so, because he would really like Jeremey to be his boyfriend.

When Emmet sees Jeremey at a block party, Jeremey is just trying to get through it and keep his head down.  His depression and anxiety make this type of event torturous and he is just trying to hold on so he doesn’t disappoint his mother yet again. When Emmet approaches him, Jeremey isn’t quite sure what to think. He can tell something is different about Emmet, and at first is wary about talking to him, but soon finds himself comfortable with Emmet. Emmet’s autism means he says what he thinks and doesn’t try to hide his feelings or say things he doesn’t mean. That is so comforting to Jeremey, whose depression makes him constantly question himself and his own worth. With Emmet he knows what he sees is what he gets.

The young men began to develop a friendship, and soon their feelings begin to grow into more. But Jeremey’s depression and anxiety are severe and untreated, and things get far worse before they get better. Emmet ends up being a source of strength for Jeremey, someone who helps him find his way back out of the darkness. Emmet has learned to live his life with autism, how to recognize his own specific needs and how to make modifications to maximize his own success. He encourages Emmet to get treatment, to learn more about what he needs, and to make his own modifications.

As Jeremey heals, the men begin to look for ways they can be together and become more independent. When an apartment opens up at The Roosevelt, an assisted living center nearby, everything changes for them. Emmet is living alone without the support of his family for the first time. Jeremey is getting away from his parents who make things so difficult for him.  And both of them must learn to navigate the world and their conditions in a new environment. They face challenges along the way, and Jeremey is learning his mental illness is something that will never fully go away. But with the support of their friends at The Roosevelt, Emmet’s family, their therapist, and the love they have for each other, Emmet and Jeremy find their way to independence and a growing life with one another.

Oh, you guys! This book is so good! I just want to squee all over the place. I am always impressed at how Heidi Cullinan can write provocative, intense, sexy kink with a very adult tone, and at the same time also write amazing new adult stories like this one that just capture that innocence and start of life transition so perfectly.  In Carry the Ocean, we see these young men who are figuring their lives out and just gaining independence.  Yes, both men have some significant challenges that are a major part of the book. But at its heart this is a story of two young men who are figuring themselves out, finding the direction their lives will take, and falling in love.

This book obviously deals with some challenging issues and Cullinan does an amazing job, both with portraying Emmet’s autism and with Jeremey’s mental illness. What I loved here is the bit of twist on expectations, both for us as readers and the people these guys interact with. On the surface, Emmet’s autism is clearly visible. He has trouble controlling his tics and his body movements can be awkward. People see him and assume he is stupid, or even “retarded.” Yet in actuality, Emmet is quite brilliant. He can do complex math and computer programming, has an amazing memory and incredible sensory perception. Emmet has a loving and supportive family who have been helping him navigate his autism since he was young. He has learned what modifications he needs in his life to keep things running smoothly. He has signals with his mother for when he can not convey his feelings verbally. He has strategies for calming himself down, or getting through difficult situations. So while he still has many challenges, and the experience of both falling in love and learning to live on his own add to that, Emmet has a solid base of support and knows how to advocate for what he needs.

Jeremey on the other hand appears “normal” on the outside, but his mental illness is quite severe. His parents have kept him from therapy or medication, trying to force him out of his depression through sheer force of will. Their expectations just make things even worse for Jeremey, as he feels like he is letting them down time and again. His depression overwhelms him and sometimes he can’t even get out of bed. His anxiety leads to panic attacks and keeps him away from many experiences he just can’t handle. But he feels the weight of expectations from those who don’t understand what is going on in his head, and he has no tools with which to navigate it all.  What I particularly enjoyed here is seeing Jeremey figure out how he can life his life to fullest. We see Emmet’s example and support as he encourages Jeremey to figure out what he needs and not be afraid to claim it.

This story focuses a lot on our ideas of “normal” and the fact that there really isn’t such a thing. I love how Emmet explains it as how close you are to the mean. Some people are more like others, but there isn’t one right way to be. Part of this journey for Jeremey is accepting where he falls on the mean, what his challenges in life will be, and learning to make the most of his life within his abilities. Nothing is glossed over here, but at the same time, I love that we see how strong these guys can be, that they can live their lives and are entitled to love just like anyone else.  I particularly liked this passage from Jeremey’s POV about his and Emmet’s sex life. He recognizes that people may look at them differently, but at the same time he is learning to embrace who he is and figuring out how to get the most of out his life.

I don’t think most people believed we actually were having sex, or if they did, they thought we were cute while we did it or something. People saw us walking down the street to the grocery store or wandering the aisles of Wheatsfield and acted as if we were escapees from the Island of Adorable, puppies dressed up in people clothes. Like we weren’t really boyfriends, like we were fake.

No wonder I feel alienated. They’re the ones telling me I’m not like everyone else. It doesn’t matter how normal I am, somebody’s ready to tell me I’m different.

Maybe I’m different, but I have custom font invitations on my bathroom mirror to have good-morning sex. I bet all the people who think Emmet and I are trained dogs don’t have anything as awesome as that.

This story is the first part of a new series focusing on The Roosevelt apartments and its residents. The first portion of the book is largely just Jeremey and Emmet, but as they move in to their apartment later in the story, we start to meet the other residents, including their friend David, a quadriplegic who was injured in a car accident. David is the MC in the next book, so we get to know him a little here and he is a really interesting contrast to Emmet and Jeremey, as his condition is recently acquired. David combines some of the challenges of both men, plus some of his own. He has the physical differences people can see on the outside like Emmet. He has the struggle like Jeremey of just learning to adapt to his life and figuring out how to accept who he is.  And then he has the added challenge of having to accept that his life is going to be totally different than what he had always imagined for himself.  It is all so well developed and I am really looking forward to seeing where Cullinan takes things in the next installment.

So this is truly such a wonderful book. I found it fascinating and engrossing. I adored Emmet and Jeremey and loved seeing their relationship develop. Culllinan gets the feeling just right here, that sense of finding yourself and learning how you want to live your life.  It has its heavy moments, especially with regard to Jeremey, but overall I found this such an uplifting and affirming story.  It is really fabulous and I highly recommend Carry the Ocean.

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  1. Loved this book! And, great review. That passage knocked me over the head! It really gets people to focus on the person behind the disease/diagnosis. Brilliant writing.
    Thanks for sharing! 

  2. Wow…can’t wait to read this one.  Ms. Cullinan is become a ‘must buy’ author for me.  Love her books.

    Thanks for the giveway!

  3. I read this book over the weekend and OMG was it awesome! I loved almost everything by this author, so I wasn’t surprised that I loved it, however I was surprised at how well she described the development of the relationship and their struggles with it in terms of the illnesses without making it sound like something different than any other relationship. I have struggled with depression for many years (although not the level Jeremy), but I could definitely relate to what she was explaining sometimes. My hubby actually asked what I was reading as I was “nodding” my head in agreement sometimes in terms of descriptions of what goes on in a mind of a person with depression. I thought the secondary characters were well developed, and obviously with the next book being about David. I think it is important to note that if someone is looking for a “quick and dirty” read or a super steamy read then this isn’t the book for you, but you would totally be missing out on an awesome story with wonderful characters and top notch writing. Definitely a 5+/5 for me!

  4. Heidi Cullinan’s book are auto-pre-orders for me and I liked all, and loved most. But I think this book is her best so far!

    In the last weeks I couldn’t find a book which held my interest for more than a few pages and I thought I should stop reading for a little while, that I had read to much….Then, three days ago I started with this gem and then I knew that I had tried to read the wrong books in the weeks before.
    This is such a great book, I just hope everyone will read it! I laughed and I cried and I think I will never again see an autistic person in the same way than before!
    Thanks a lot Heidi Cullinan, for all of this

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