Rating: 4.75 stars
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Caleb Deering and Nico Caro have been best friends since they were ten and boyfriends for nearly that long. The two are so different. Cody is strong and confident and the captain of the swim team. And Nico is small and shy and timid. But they are always there for each other and Caleb’s number one goal is to make Nico feel safe and protected, especially as he faces his abusive, alcoholic father. Now at around 18 they are totally in love and committed to one another, however they continue to keep their romance a secret from everyone. But when the boys accidentally out themselves at school, they must face their friends and families with their true feelings for one another.
You all know I adore a good young love story and this one was just fabulous. Kennedy so totally captures that feeling of innocent exploration, of wonder and excitement as these guys take their first steps together. The story actually starts in present day as Caleb and Nico are outed at school, then begins a series of flashbacks from the time they first meet at age ten. So we really get to see their love grow over time, starting with friendship, then feelings for one another that the boys don’t really understand, and slowly to a growing emotional and physical connection. Kennedy manages to make their actions and emotions feel so real and age appropriate and I loved following along as their relationship grows. It is so sweet and beautiful and romantic and lovely.
Caleb and Nico themselves are so sweetly adorable. The story is told from Caleb’s POV and we see quickly how nurturing and protective he is over Nico. Caleb has grown up with a loving family and a supportive dad, and though he has not always had everything easy, we can see the confidence and strength that comes from knowing you are loved and supported. Nico, on the other hand, is scared of just about everything. He is tiny and nervous and anxious with just about everyone but Caleb. Nico’s father beats him and the years of abuse have clearly taken their toll. Somehow Nico finds the strength to deal with the beatings, but it is also clear that Caleb is his rock. Watching Caleb take care of Nico and protect him, make him feel safe, is one of the most lovely parts of the story.
FWIW, these guys do begin a sexual relationship fairly early on and while it is not super explicit, it is detailed on page. For me this totally works because as I said, their actions and emotions are so perfectly age appropriate and real. Nothing ever feels gratuitous; instead there is an intensity and beauty to their love that Kennedy really depicts so well. But just be aware that there is enough detail here that it may not be appropriate for younger readers.
Most of the book focuses purely on the relationship development between the young men, but we do also meet each of their fathers as they deal with the fallout from being outed. We see the contrast between the two men, one loving and supportive and one cruel and abusive. The only area where I felt like we needed more detail was the mothers. The are referenced and clearly play a big role in both boys’ emotional development, but we never really get to know a lot about them. For example, we learn that Caleb doesn’t expect his mother to accept him being gay, that he fears her reaction much more than his dad’s, but we never really get a clear idea why. She has recently gone through breast cancer treatment which took a toll on her and the family, so he doesn’t want to rock the boat. But that doesn’t really explain why he thinks she will be angry to find out he is gay but not his dad. And Nico’s mother is barely mentioned at all. I would have loved to understand more about their family dynamic. We get a sense she is supportive of him (at one point she does an end around Nico’s father to help Nico out) but given that Nico’s family affects his personality so much, I would have liked a little bit more here.
But overall I just loved this one and found it a wonderful story. Kennedy writes young love and young characters so beautifully. Each element felt so real and so believable that I was totally caught up in their developing romance. Nico and Caleb are such fabulous characters, so sweetly in love, that I just adored them. And the book kept me captivated right from the start and left me feeling so happy and content. This is a wonderful story and one that I highly recommend.
Note: This is the second edition of this book and it has been revised and slightly expanded from the original.