Rating: 5 stars
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Theo Anderson has lived by himself for the year after his partner Ben’s sudden death. Theo lives his days in routine. He wakes up, runs at the gym until he’s physically exhausted, goes to work, goes home, heats up his microwave dinner, checks his usual online forum, and finally tries to sleep, only to get up and start all over again.
While at the gym one morning, Theo meets Peter. Peter is patient and helpful, and Theo is physically attracted to him. But even though his body responds to Peter, in his head Theo is not ready to let go of Ben. Peter has made it clear that he wants a relationship with Theo, but Theo doesn’t feel the same. On the other hand, Theo has made a friend, Morgan, through the online forum he visits and soon finds himself thinking of Morgan constantly throughout the day. Morgan is easy to talk to and doesn’t push Theo into anything he’s not ready for. Morgan is a great friend who helps to guide Theo out of the grief he feels because of Ben’s death.
Just as Theo finally feels he may be ready to move to the next step and meet Morgan, Theo picks up clues that Morgan may be half his age. There were nine years between he and Ben. That age gap caused a rift in Theo’s relationship with his own parents, and now that the relationship with his parents is getting better, he’s afraid to cause another problem for the same reason. Not only that, Theo fears that he would end up leaving a younger partner with the same hurt, fear, and grief he had when Ben died so suddenly.
Luckily, Theo has friends and family to talk him through his fears and help him – or push him, in some cases – to realize that moving on does not mean forgetting what he had with Ben and that life is too short to worry about small things when love is on the line.
I am head over heels in love with After Ben by Con Riley. If you could see me now, you would know that I was giving a standing ovation to this wonderful piece of fiction. It’s a beautiful story of renewal, growth, and love that walks us through the life of a man who is struggling out of a pit of hurt and despair to find that there is actually life and love on the other side.
The pacing of the story has a slow build, but that, in no way, means the story is boring – far from it. We view Theo’s life as he is walking through the final stages of grief. He’s coming out of a haze of the daily routine that he has lived in since Ben’s death. And he starts to realize that life has somehow gone on without him. The journey that Theo walks in this story is beautiful. The progression through his grief is one of my favorite parts. Although Ben has passed, as a reader, I still felt like I knew him. Theo thought about him a lot. He had several flashbacks within the story, and as time goes by the flashbacks lessen. As he moves on, thinking about Ben gets easier. The flashbacks and thoughts of Ben come less and less, but Theo never forgets him. This story is so full of ups and downs, excitements, and disappointments that eventually lead to his decision to move on with his life and be happy again.
Imperfect characters fill this story. Theo starts out as a broken man. He was so well-written and realistic that there were times when I wanted to reach out and give him a hug to help him through whatever obstacle he was facing at the time. He is full of hurt and doubt. He’s afraid to move on without Ben, but he also knows he has to get on with his life. When he meets Morgan online, Morgan becomes a friend and a life-line to Theo. He is easy to talk to and keeps Theo interested intellectually. He gives Theo advice and supports him in a way that no one else has been able to. Morgan is a great character, full of witty snark and sarcasm, but he is also understanding and patient. Morgan is broken, too. He has a dark past that he’s trying to get away from. But he turns out to be such a strong character. Through their easy friendship and trusting relationship, they begin to help one another heal. They prove that two broken people don’t make a whole person, but they can work to make two whole people. That’s not to say that their relationship was easy by far. Both Theo and Morgan have hang-ups and secrets that can be hard to work through at times, but I think that having a friendship first made way for the understanding and patience in their relationship.
Not only are the main characters easy to fall in love with, the entire cast of secondary characters are spectacular. Maggie is Theo’s only friend for a while. She is strong-willed and supportive. I liked that it seemed the only reason Theo opened up to her was because she wouldn’t leave him alone until he talked to her. She always looked out for him and wanted, more than anything, for him to be happy again. Evan and Joel were interns at Ben’s office who became friends. Their relationship was refreshing and sort of resembled the relationship that Theo described he shared with Ben. They were a fun part of the book that I hope will branch off into their own story. Peter was such a sweet guy with a huge heart. His caring extended beyond what he felt for Theo. He is an EMT and took an interest in difficult cases – victims of domestic abuse and suicide attempts. I’m looking forward to reading his story in the future.
I highly recommend After Ben. It has angst, misunderstandings, forgiveness, and love. I am truly in love with this book. The process of grief that Theo walks through was so real and believable. The characters were all so likable. I am so glad that this book is only the beginning of a series. I look forward to reading more from this cast of characters.
Cover: I like the subtlety of this cover by Anne Cain. The mouse and hands to represent how Theo and Morgan met and began their friendship is perfect set against the Seattle skyline which is perfect for the first book of the Seattle Stories series. I love it.