Rating: 4.25 stars
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Connor Owens is an extremely talented violinist and timid college freshman. To say he’s shy is the understatement of the century. He becomes paralyzed with fear when he’s expected to talk to pretty much anyone. His only social interaction is with his stand partner, Rebecca, who takes him under her wing and tries to get him to say more than two words at a time.
Connor’s a good student, so when his anthropology professor asks him to tutor some football players, he reluctantly agrees, as to not disappoint his teacher and make a few extra dollars. His students are Michael and Jared, and neither one seems that interested in what he is trying to teach them. When Michael decides to drop the class, it means one-on-one time with the gorgeous Jared, who seems to be sitting awfully close and allowing touches to linger a little longer than Connor would expect for a football player with a girlfriend.
When a study date in Connor’s dorm leads to more, a whole range of problems present themselves and seem insurmountable, especially for the deeply closeted Jared. Connor’s parents expect perfection from him, and he knows his sexuality is not going to fit in with their carefully constructed future plans for him. Jared has a team of football players to worry about, as well as a roommate and best friend who most likely won’t understand. Even if both Jared and Connor can admit to their feelings, will they be able to overcome these obstacles?
I loved the cripplingly shy Connor. He grew up in a house that was strictly regulated, and now that he’s out on his own, he’s having severe growing pains. He’s never had to interact with people in the way he’s expected to at college, and while he tries to avoid it, he’s forced to find the courage and strength that’s within him. And when this happens, when he starts to become the person he’s meant to be, it’s beautiful.
On the flip slide, I struggled with the character of Jared. He’s undoubtedly confused about his feelings for Connor, and even admits later on that his initial attraction was due partly to convenience, but I never felt convinced that it grew into anything much stronger for him than curiosity and infatuation. There are several times that I was so frustrated with Jared, I wanted to shake him. He was struggling with his sexuality, yes, but his selfishness and fear made him a less than deserving partner for Connor. You see the growth in Connor and want to see the same from the person he loves.
The first third of the book, as Connor and Jared are discovering each other and Jared is helping Connor overcome his shyness, is by far my favorite part. It’s achingly sweet and tentative and all the things you would expect from two young men who are inexperienced and driven by curiosity, lust, and the possibility of more. During this time, Jared’s ability to see past the shy exterior and recognize the talent and heart that lies beneath the surface is swoon-worthy. They’re tackling a whole lot of big issues together, including discovering their sexuality and contemplating coming out, and they make a formidable couple. They are the quintessential opposites-attract couple, and in this case, it works well.
The last 1/3 of the book is where things started to go off the rails for me. As to not give too much away, there’s a situation involving Jared’s ex-girlfriend that was not only a little out of left-field, but was also unrealistically portrayed. The professionalism of the medical workers was questionable, at best. The whole scenario felt contrived and out of place and, while the topic is serious and bears being discussed, it was only dealt with on a very shallow level and it wasn’t given the importance it deserved.
The ending felt rushed. It’s a fairly long book and, by the way, it is a great bargain for the money, but most of the significant moments take place in the last 20 pages. Understandably, an HEA would be hard to accept for these young boys just barely starting out in life, but it’s like the roller coaster ride stopped just as you made it over the highest hill and hit the bottom, but before you get a chance to level out. The book would’ve been a better one had these major issues been dealt with a little bit earlier.
I loved the friendship Connor had with Rebecca and her artist friends; I disliked the attempt at music metaphors that seemed arbitrary and forced. I loved Jared’s mom and her reaction to his coming out; I didn’t really like the stereotypical portrayal of athletes and homophobia. All in all, though, I found the strengths far outweighed the weaknesses in this book and I thought it was a sweet coming-of-age novel that I’d recommend to teenagers as well as adults. It was an admirable debut novel by Sara Alva, and I’ll be looking forward to reading what she writes in the future.