Rating: 5 stars
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At age five, Evan Costa was molested by an aide at school. Years of therapy have left him well adjusted and able to move past the incident. Unfortunately, no one else in his family seems to be able get over it. His mother is hyper vigilant about anyone touching him, worried that being molested will turn him gay, and pretty much convinced all men are predatory. His father has given in to his mother’s craziness and it is clear that his mother would rather not have to think or worry about Evan. As a result, Evan grew up starved for touch and real interaction, something that damaged him far more than the original incident as a child. So at 18, desperate for touch and a human bond, Evan gets a job at Johnnies, a gay-for-pay porn site, and turns himself into “Ethan.”
Over the past two years at Johnnies, Ethan has found what he always wanted. The intense physical contact of the sex scenes gives him the touch he craves. And the guys understand how much he needs it. They hug and cuddle and touch, gay or straight, giving him both a brotherhood and a deep sense of comfort. But it is not all easy. Ethan still must hide his sexuality from his mother, who would freak out and see it is validation of her beliefs that the abuse caused him to be gay. He also has to hide his job, knowing his family would never accept him for doing porn. So he lives at home with his crazy mother and chaotic family, hiding himself away.
Jonah Stevens, also lives at home with a totally different kind of family. His teenage sister has Cystic Fibrosis, a chronic condition requiring constant treatments and therapy. Jonah gave up his hopes for college to help work to support the family, take care of his sister, and help with the medical bills. He has dedicated his life to caring for his sister. It is an overwhelming responsibility, partly because Melly herself is unmotivated to follow the rigorous diet and exercise her condition requires. And partly because even with all the treatment, they all know that Melly’s lifespan is quite limited.
When Jonah sees Ethan at the pet store where he works, he is immediately struck by the gorgeous man. Ethan is there with his friend Tommy who is applying for a job. The guys have some time to talk and connect, and as they find out they share an interest in anime, they bond even further. But Ethan is convinced the two men should be nothing more than friends. Although he knows he needs Johnnies to keep his sanity, he also is sure it makes Jonah way too good for him. Jonah is a virgin and sweetly inexperienced, and Ethan has sex in front of thousands. Not to mention that his family is a mess, leaving his life in turmoil, and Ethan is determined to keep Jonah out of the chaos. But Jonah is equally determined to have the man he is growing to care about. He loves Ethan’s sweetness, his caring, and his fun, open personality. And despite himself, Ethan is having a hard time staying away from Jonah. But with both their lives in chaos, Ethan must be able to see past the craziness and accept the man he is growing to love.
Ethan in Gold is the third in Amy Lane’s fabulous Johnnies series and I think my favorite so far. Lane just hits that sweet spot between the angst and intensity and the fabulously rich character development and creates something so wonderful here.
Ok, so I loved this book for so many reasons, but the first is that Ethan and Jonah are just such fabulously well-developed characters. The story starts focused on Ethan and his childhood. In fact, we don’t even meet Jonah until about 15% of the way in, which is quite a lot given this is a 350 page book. But by meeting Ethan so early, we see those pivotal events in his life that really shaped him. Much of that time is spent on Ethan’s high school years as he first begins to look outside his family for that love and support that he needs. He settles into the anime club and for the first time finds that touch that he needs. At the same time, he encounters kids who are even more troubled than him. This backstory really helps us to understand Ethan when we connect with him again as an adult. How much he needs and craves that human contact. How scared he is of revealing the truth about himself to his family and why he expects rejection. Why his self worth is so damaged, and why he has trouble trusting in the long-term nature of his relationships. But even with all his issues, Ethan remains so sweet and loyal and devoted to those he cares about. We can really feel for him as we see how he yearns for that touch, how desperately he needs that contact and that warmth that he has been denied.
Jonah is also such a well-developed character. He faces a complicated home life as well, but for totally different reasons. Jonah has the warmth and love in his family that Ethan has always craved. But at the same time, he is just depleted from the work and the round the clock care Melly needs. He has put his life on hold for her, knowing her time is so limited. As a result, Jonah lives at home, doesn’t date, works full time, and misses college. What I like most about Jonah, in addition to his total dedication to his sister, is that he is so much stronger than he seems. Ethan keeps wanting to protect Jonah, mostly from Ethan himself. But Jonah isn’t willing to be treated like a delicate thing. He knows he wants Ethan, and he knows Ethan wants him. And he is determined not to let Ethan sabotage things for them. So I really loved both of these guys and it is clear how perfectly connected they are together.
One thing that Lane has done with all the books in this series is really play with the sense of time. In Chase in Shadow, the story jumps back and forth in time. In Dex in Blue, we get much of the same story as Chase, but this time told from Dex and Kane’s POV. And here in Ethan in Gold, the story actually spans much of the timeframe of the other two books. We start around when Chase is in the hospital and things end here about the time the babies are born. This book doesn’t quite as closely overlap with the other stories as Dex does with Chase. But we get little snippets of events that were key in the first two books and that will be familiar if you read them. I really enjoyed this actually, because we are far enough removed that it doesn’t feel like a repetition of the first books. But at the same time, there is that sense of familiarity as we read about the events we know and the people we have grown to care about. It really emphasizes that sense of family that all of the characters express and that is especially important to Ethan.
So yes, I totally loved this one and continue to think this is a fabulous series. The characters are so well drawn, so fully developed and richly layered. The story is intense and sometimes hard, but definitely not overwhelming. And Ethan and Jonah are warm and sweet and loving and sexy. I really loved this one and would highly recommend it, along with the rest of the series.