Rating: 4.5 stars
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Author Julian Holmes is thrilled to welcome his new son Robbie into the world, but devastated when the joy of his birth takes a backseat to Robbie’s immediate health crisis. Robbie is born with a heart defect, one that will make it unlikely the baby will see his first birthday unless he receives a heart transplant. Julian is overwhelmed and shocked by the news that his baby boy is sick. What was supposed to be the thrill of new parenthood turns into a nightmare of tests, surgeries, hospital visits, and the fear that Robbie will not live long enough to get his transplant. But Julian fell in love with Robbie from the moment he saw him and he is determined to do whatever it takes to help Robbie get better.
Part of the process of getting Robbie set for a transplant is numerous meetings with hospital staff to arrange insurance payments and other administrative details that go along with the medical end of things. Through this ordeal, Julian meets Simon Phelps, the hospital’s insurance coordinator. Although at first the men have little contact, as Julian ends up spending time at the hospital, the men encounter each other and begin a friendship. Both men are desperately lonely, but neither one expects anything more between them than friendship. However, a stress filled night leads to a hook up between them and a realization that they each would like more from the other than just being friends.
Things are complicated, of course. Julian’s number one priority is Robbie no matter what, which means he doesn’t have a lot of time or energy for a relationship. With Simon managing Robbie’s insurance paperwork, he is not even allowed to be dating Julian and they must keep their relationship a secret. Not to mention that Simon is firmly in the closet and his mother is desperately trying to set him up with women. As Robbie’s condition worsens, however, the men need each other more than ever. Two lonely men have finally found the love and companionship that they have always wanted, but they must now hope that Robbie gets the heart he needs and they can truly become a family.
A Heart for Robbie is a beautifully written and heartwarming story and I really loved it. Barnaby manages to perfectly walk the line between creating a poignant and meaningful story about a sick child without leading us into something too overwhelming or depressing. Don’t get me wrong — when poor little Robbie is sick and Julian is desperate to help him, it is truly heartbreaking. But overall the story is warm and full of love and very rewarding.
So first off, we jump right in to the story as we see Julian’s joy at the birth of his son turn to terror as he realizes something is seriously wrong. We follow along in horror as the doctors and nurses jump into action and poor Julian has no idea what is going on or what is wrong with Robbie. Barnaby captures his fear and shock so well that we are living it all right along with him. From there we follow along with Robbie and Julian and they deal with paperwork and medical crises and the endless wait for a life saving transplant, never knowing if it will come in time. This is all done so well. Every moment feels real and Barnaby manages to really balance Julian’s fears for his son with the incredible love and devotion he has for little Robbie. It is beautifully done and Julian’s relationship with Robbie is the real heart of the story.
At the same time, we have the development of Julian and Simon’s relationship, and again, Barnaby really handles this with a deft hand. We never doubt for a moment that Julian’s first priority is his son. Without that solid foundation of dedication to Robbie, the relationship between these two men could have felt awkward and wrong. But the feelings between them grow very organically and the way their friendship and ultimate romantic partnership develops seems completely natural. Both of these men are so lonely and want a relationship and a family so badly. I found it so rewarding to see that in the midst of all the pain in their lives that the two men are able to find happiness together.
One other interesting aspect of the story is Julian and his writing. Julian is a famous and successful author of a YA series and we spend a lot of time with him as he works on his latest book. Julian has a strong connection with his main characters, so much so that he hears them, speaks to them, and even sees them. One on hand, I really found the look inside his head as he is writing to be fascinating. Not only do we get an inside look inside his writing process, but we can see how lonely Julian is though his interaction with his characters. But I did find the frequent involvement of Julian’s fictional characters into the main story to be somewhat distracting. Now I know that “hearing” your characters is somewhat common for authors and it felt very authentic that these guys seem to speak to Julian. But he also sees them visually and interacts with them as if they are there, even talking to them in conversations. These characters don’t only appear when he is writing; they often show up to comfort Julian when he is stressed or to interact with him as he goes through life. So, for example, while Julian is in the hospital nursery interacting with a nurse, his character Liam is just hanging out talking to him.
I will admit this kind of scene pulled me out of the story somewhat. The writing scenes worked for me fine, but to suddenly have these imaginary characters hanging out and interacting with Julian while he is going about his daily life just felt distracting. I understand that for Julian, these guys provide some comfort and security and that is why he goes to them when he is stressed. But I still found it interrupted the flow of the story for me at times and took me away from what was going on in the book.
I found A Heart for Robbie a beautiful and heartwarming story. Although it is definitely intense at times with many heartbreaking scenes, it is also so warm and uplifting as well. It is so rewarding to watch both Julian and Simon find happiness together, even in the midst of crisis. Both these men want love and companionship so badly, and I loved seeing them find it with each other. The love both of these men have for little Robbie feels so real and their story kept me captivated. So a wonderful book and one I’d definitely recommend.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.