Rating: 4.75 stars
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Spoiler Alert: Something Like Winter is a companion novel to Something Like Summer with many overlapping plot points. As a result, this review will have spoilers for events in that first book.
Tim Wyman is looking forward to a fresh start when his family moves from Kansas to Texas. Although Tim was always one of the popular kids at his high school, a vengeful ex-girlfriend falsely accused him of rape and since then he has been the school pariah. It has been miserable losing his friends and being the subject of their scorn. Tim is hopeful that moving to a new city where no one knows him will be a chance to start over again.
At first Tim settles right back in with the popular crowd just like always. Having to think about everything he says or does for fear of their reaction and keeping on top of the social ladder is exhausting, but it is important to Tim to fit in and have people like him. His parents can barely be bothered to notice him and have made it pretty clear that they are just as happy living their own lives without him. So the support and adoration of his friends is pretty much all Tim has.
One day while Tim is jogging, fellow student Benjamin Bentley crashes right into Tim on his rollerblades, sending Tim sprawling and leaving him with a severely injured ankle. With Tim’s parents out of town, Ben takes over the role of caretaker to Tim. At first Tim doesn’t really know what to make of the out and proud Ben, but time together in their little cocoon as Tim heals quickly forges a strong friendship that eventually leads to more. Tim knows he has feelings for Ben, but he isn’t sure he is gay and he definitely doesn’t want to tell anyone about it. Tim knows his parents will reject him even more than they already have and his friends will certainly not accept him being with Ben. After a year of sneaking around, while Ben pushes for more and Tim tries to keep a distance, things eventually fall apart, breaking Tim’s heart and Ben’s as well.
But as Tim gets older, he realizes it is important to live for himself and not what other people think. As he goes through college and meets Eric Conroy, a man who becomes his close friend, mentor, and platonic partner, Tim grows up even more. He has accepted that he is gay and that he wants a life with Ben, but can’t imagine how they can ever be together again. When a chance encounter has Tim reconnecting with Ben, Tim hopes all his dreams have come true. But many years have passed and both men have changed. Tim must hope that he still has a chance to be with the man he has always loved and never forgotten.
Something Like Winter is the companion novel to Bell’s wonderful Something Like Summer and tells the story of Ben and Tim from Tim’s perspective this time. The books intertwine and we get a lot of overlapping events from the first story but from Tim’s viewpoint. But there is also a lot of new ground covered here as we fill in a lot of the gaps in Tim’s life that we don’t see in the first book. The story breaks down into roughly three different sections in my head, so that is how I am going to approach this review.
The first section matches the first part of Summer in that it focuses on Tim and Ben in high school. This time we learn more about Tim’s experience in Kansas and how incredibly hard it was to suddenly lose his friends and have everyone hate him. He is so hopeful that Texas will bring a fresh start, but somehow he ends up with just about the same crowd he was with before. We can see it is not easy for Tim, the need to always be on, the work to retain his status with the in crowd. And we can also better understand why he needs that, why he needs someone to care about him, even to adore him. We get glimpses of Tim’s parents in Summer, but here we really see how little interest they have in their son. Tim’s parents live for one another and there isn’t much room in their lives or their hearts for anyone else. This part of the story most closely matches the first book and we see key events from Tim’s perspective, hitting many of the same highlights as in Summer. I enjoyed seeing things from Tim’s view, but I did wish for some more insight into his feelings here. This part of Summer was so intense with Ben’s emotions and Tim’s felt strangely muffled to me here. I would have liked more insight into how he was handling his feelings for another boy and into his emotions as these events take place. For example, we see the scene where Tim brings the painting to Ben’s birthday, but we don’t ever learn why Tim takes that step, or how it feels to expose himself like that to Ben. I would also have loved Tim’s reaction to hearing Ben sing to him after their break up, not just seeing it occur, but really getting insight into how Tim felt about it.
The second part of the book focuses on Tim in college and with Eric and this was my favorite part. We see Tim entering a relationship of sorts with a fellow fraternity brother, one who is deeply closeted and only wants to be with Tim when he is drunk, regretting it immediately the next morning. It gives Tim insight into his experience with Ben, and what the other man must have gone through. This is the time when Tim makes the most important relationship in his life, other than Ben, and that is meeting Eric. We learn a little about Eric in Summer, but here we can see what a profound effect the man had on Tim’s life. Eric loves and supports Tim in a way his parents never have, and through Eric’s nurturing Tim really comes into his own. It is wonderful to see him find himself and make that transition from troubled kid into an adult who is confident and happy with himself. We also can really see Tim’s capacity for love here in a way we don’t see in his younger days with Ben. Tim takes care of Eric as his health fails and his devastation at Eric’s death is just heartbreaking.
The remainder of the book follows Tim after the first time he reunites with Ben when the guys are both in college in Austin. Like the first portion, it dips in and out of the first story, giving us some familiar scenes. But we also see Tim in the intervening years between his times with Ben, both the good ones where he is happy and the bad ones where he is falling apart. I found it interesting here because I realized I didn’t always like Tim in this part of the book, especially soon after he and Ben reconnect. On one hand Tim is still totally in love with Ben and desperate to be together. He truly regrets the past and wants nothing more than to be with Ben again. At the same time, we get a closer look at Tim’s attempts at manipulation, of getting Ben back by any means necessary and it isn’t always pretty. It takes a while for Tim to accept that Ben is happy with Jace, and anything that gets in the way of that relationship will only hurt the man he loves. I really liked seeing that growth and understanding in Tim, and makes their eventual reconnection all the sweeter.
We also get quite a treat here in that the book takes us farther than Something Like Summer into Tim and Ben’s lives after the gallery reunion. We see their relationship rebuilding and get a wonderful epilogue about what happens in their future. It is just a perfect ending for these guys and comes together wonderfully.
One of the trickiest things about this book is the fact that it is so closely intertwined with Something Like Summer. It is not an easy balance to keep us connected to that first book and let us see Tim’s viewpoint, while at the same time not making this story incredibly repetitious. Bell really succeeds here so wonderfully. There is just enough connection to the first story that I always knew where we were in the larger timeline, even when Ben isn’t around. And we get Tim’s view on many pivotal moments in their relationship. But at the same time, there is plenty new here and I found that very rewarding as well, especially Tim’s relationship with Eric.
So I really loved this one and think it is just the perfect companion to Something Like Summer. You are really going to want to read these two as a set to get the full impact, especially the emotional intensity of their high school days and why the end of that relationship is so devastating for both of them. Here Bell really captures not just the pain and emotions of young love lost, but also of a young man who grows up, finds himself, and becomes the person he was always meant to be. Just beautifully done and a wonderful story.
Cover Review: Can we talk about this cover for a minute? Not only is it gorgeous, but like the novel itself, it is a perfect companion to the first book. I love that pop of orange, the perfect contrast to the Summer orange cover with Tim’s blue shoes. Just wonderfully done.