There is an old warning that surfaces every so often that it is so dangerous to fall in love with a friend. It cautions that mixing love with friendship can prove fatal to the latter and ruin a good thing. However, so many people will tell you that they have in fact married their “best” friend and could not be happier. So what happens when two young men feel an attraction for each other while one is firmly out and proud and the other is still trying to come to grips with his sexuality? Why then, you have a wonderful novel by Jay Northcote called, Not Just Friends.
Lewis meets his four university roommates with a little reluctance. Never having had to share a room, being an only child, Lewis is a very private person, particularly since he is also hiding the very real confusion he has about his sexuality. When the last flat mate turns up, Lewis feels his breath catch and his body react to Max the very handsome and very gay next door roommate. As time moves on, Lewis realizes that his attraction to Max is far from fleeting and that he must come to terms with the idea that his thoughts that he might be bisexual were wrong and, in fact, he might very well be gay.
However, Max has other ideas and is not adverse to casual hook-ups and even keeping a “friends only” status with Lewis as his go to position. So what is Lewis to do when he realizes that the guy he potentially could fall in love with wants nothing to do with him other than a casual one-off?
While the oversimplified synopsis above may fall flat in its descriptions, the novel Not Just Friends is colorful, gripping, and quite lovely overall. Author Jay Northcote takes a simple plot line of boys in their first year at Uni and turns it into a complex story of self-discovery, first love, and the painful moments of coming of age. Her characters are three-dimensional and they grapple with real life issues from boys amusingly trying to cook for themselves for the first time to the feelings of anger and despair when parents divorce. Each piece of this novel vibrated with truth and, as a result, was emotionally charged and oh so compelling to read.
Lewis was perhaps the most refreshing example of a young man experiencing the many “firsts” in his life. From the realization of who he really was and what sex actually attracted him, to the idea that he would finally have to step out of the shadows and embrace life fully, Lewis was as real as the person standing next to you. The way in which Northcote crafted this character was done with painstaking care and, in turn, Lewis made my breath catch and my heart ache for him every time another roadblock was thrown up in front of him. While Max was more of a secondary character to Lewis, the moments that were written to reveal his past and his painful home life went a long way in explaining his tendency to hold himself aloof and refuse to commit to another relationship.
All in all, Not Just Friends by Jay Northcote was an amazing window into the life of a young man whose life was about to explode in so many ways. How those changes would ultimately affect him made for an incredibly rich story that left a lasting effect well beyond the last page.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.