College boys Greg Sloane and Hank Springfield, who couldn’t be more different, are forced to work together to arrange a Christmas party at their frat house. The order comes from Micah, who Sloane admires and who happens to be Hank’s big brother. As it is, neither can refuse.
But for two adversarial people who have nothing in common, finding a unified theme for the party turns into a battle of wills. Neither is willing to give in. When they suddenly discover surprising common ground, neither knows how to deal with it. And when Sloane ends up as the Christmas house guest of the Springfield family at their farm, Hank is not a happy puppy.
Sloane is out, suave, and smart, and he’s from a wealthy family. Hank is a total opposite, coming from a small rural farm, and he’s inexperienced and unsure of his sexuality, plus gruff and antisocial to boot. Hank immediately despises Sloane, who is intrigued with the multi-layered mystery that is Hank Springfield.
Both points of view—Sloane’s and Hank’s—are given to us in first person. Unless the voices are unique and differ substantially, that format rarely works. But here, getting to know the thought processes and hidden feelings of both men was rather well done. While Sloane is more confident and curious, Hank has a hard time accepting his attraction. His coming out takes a long time, not because of other people, but because of himself. He can’t seem to face that part of his nature, so he hides in the closet, mostly from himself. The characterization never feels forced or unnatural, and you always hear the voices of Sloane and Hank, not the author writing them.
The reason for that is Easton’s easy, fluid writing. The personalities of the characters come through in small details, as Sloane and Hank learn about each other, and as the reader learns about both of them. Easton masters effective and persuasive writing, her style natural and smooth. Dialogue is realistic, the story doesn’t linger inside people’s heads for too long, and the narrative grabs you until you find yourself turning pages, unwilling to stop until the very last line.
This story is as much about accepting who you are as it is about family. When you are loved growing up, there’s a typical progression. As a kid, you adore your parents, and in your eyes they can do no wrong. You just feel the love. But as you grow up, by the time you reach your teens, you see your parents as something you don’t want to become. Teenage rebellion fueled by hormones.
Sloane’s classy but snobbish parents got bitten by the travel bug, and in their search for adventure they took Sloane as a kid to live in far off lands, uprooting him from all that was familiar and safe. They weren’t bad parents, just distant, and they always chose new exciting things over Sloane. Even during Christmas.
Hank, however, grew up in a small town and a small farm. His parents were hippies, and their lifestyle unorthodox. As Hank grew up, he was embarrassed by his folks, and that changed him from a happy kid to a socially secluded young man. Add to that his mother’s near-fatal illness, and you get a man who bottles up most of his feelings.
When Sloane gets invited to the Springfield farm for Christmas break, these two views of family meet. As Sloane sees all that he has missed and falls hard for the family idyll, Hank begins to see that perhaps his family isn’t so bad after all. That heartwarming lesson is the at the heart of the story.
As befits the theme of holiday tales, this too has a happy ending, which is to be expected. I personally, however, would have wished for a slightly longer piece. Coming out and forming a family are great themes, but I would have wanted to see further down the line how well these two guys fare in the long run. But that’s a matter of opinion.
The novella isn’t long, but it’s full of warm and fuzzies. The eloquent, articulate language is like a siren’s call, beckoning you closer. I highly recommend this story for all lovers of contemporary M/M, even if holiday tales aren’t your typical or favorite theme.