With his college graduation over, Justin Akron is ready to start his summer adventure: traveling across the country with his best friend Landry in his late father’s old Winnebago. Justin’s father was a nature photographer, and to honor his memory, Justin plans to visit the 12 sites on his last calendar, taking pictures and spreading his father’s ashes. This will be Justin’s last chance to do what he really wants before he faces the reality of the rest of his life come fall.
With his father’s death, and his own uncertainly about his sexuality, Justin has found himself on a train he can’t stop. He allowed his mother to railroad him into the major of her choice and is expected to work on her conservative political campaign in the fall. Justin doesn’t know how to put a halt to all of this, how to talk to her about what he really wants, or how to admit that he is gay. So instead he is facing a future stuck doing something he hates, hiding who he really is.
Justin and Landry have been best friends through high school and college. But more than that, Justin is in love with Landry. Landry who is gay and thinks that Justin is straight. Being with him in the little trailer for three months is going to be the most wonderful torture. Justin wants to tell Landry the truth, but he just feels like his life it out of his control and has no idea how to reclaim it.
As the young men travel together, Justin begins to get some closure on the loss of his father. He finally gets brave enough to share his feelings with Landry, and is thrilled that Landry feels the same way. He begins to learn to accept himself, to dream about a real future with Landry, being a couple and working as a photographer. But the fall is drawing nearer and his mother’s demands are increasing in their urgency. She still expects him to fall in line and fulfill her wishes. Justin now must be brave enough to claim the life he really wants with the man that he loves.
Oh, you guys. So good! I mean, really, this book is so good! You know when you finish a really good book and get that kind of gooey feeling in your stomach when you think back on it? That is how I feel about this book. I had no idea what to expect from this one, and I totally fell in love with Landry and Justin and just adored their story.
Trust the Focus covers a lot of different themes. We have Justin dealing with the loss of his father, saying his final goodbye. We have the road trip story of Justin and Landry traveling the country together in an old Winnebago. There is the romance between Justin and Landry, and Justin’s coming out and acceptance of being gay. And ultimately we have a story about Justin finding himself, learning who he is and claiming his life. This could have been a lot of things to manage in one book, and it could have turned into a jumbled mess. But Erickson does an amazing job of weaving all these themes together, of blending them seamlessly and building a story where at the end I just wanted to cheer as Justin gets everything he has always wanted with the man he has always loved.
I loved pretty much everything about this book. First off, I love a good road trip story. I love the adventure and seeing the characters explore new places and have new experiences. With romance stories in particular, we get to see that unique connection that two people get when they spend virtually every moment together in a confined space. The road trip experience lends itself so beautifully to this story. First, Erickson does a great job capturing the places these guys visit. Justin’s dad was a photographer, so we get the poignancy of him recreating his father’s journey and stopping at many of his father’s favorite places. Justin is a photographer as well, and Landry is an artist, so both men have an appreciative eye for the wonders they are seeing. I loved the little details about each of their stops, the unique experiences Justin and Landry have together and how this whole trip bonds them in a way that changes them. The road trip is also the perfect set up for this story, as we see the tension from the start as poor Justin tries to hide his feelings for Landry. And ultimately, when the guys get together, we get to see them have this shared experience that connects them so deeply and will affect their lives together forever.
Trust the Focus is also a fabulous friends to lovers story. It is clear right from the start how much Justin and Landry care about one another. They are the closest of friends and there is a bond between them that is so apparent it practically leaps off the page. There is no denying what these men mean to one another, even before their relationship turns romantic. I loved the chemistry between these guys. The banter, the humor, the way they interact, the way they know each other so well. At the beginning in particular there is the delicious conflict between the easy camaraderie and friendship they have, versus the sexual tension and need that is bubbling under the surface. I just have to share this one passage because it just captures the dynamic between these two guys so well and cracked me up. It takes place as they stop in a diner for lunch.
The waitress handed us our plates and we found a corner booth. It was mid afternoon, after the lunch rush, so we had the place mostly to ourselves except for two older women in the far corner. The sandwich was amazing. Buttery toasted bread that crunched when I bit into it and ooey-gooey cheese with crispy bacon and ripe tomatoes. I must have moaned because when I looked up, Landry was staring at me.
“Um, you okay there?”
“Pretty sure you just took that sandwich’s virginity.”
I sputtered out a sip of coffee. “Lan!”
“What! That was a pretty intense moment you had over there.”
“Will you just eat?”
“My sandwich doesn’t want to do it now. My sandwich said your sandwich told her it hurts.”
“Oh my God, Lan.”
He picked up his sandwich and took a huge bite. Strings of glistening, browned onions dripped out the sides. He fluttered his eyes and moaned like this was a porn shoot.
“Lan, there are honest-to-God people in here. Cool it.”
He widened his eyes in mock innocence. “I’m sorry. I just had to show my sandwich a good time so she’d tell all her sandwich friends how amazing I was.”
Justin has been in love with Landry for years, but never told him, never even admitted he is gay. When he finally admits his feelings, OMG you guys, it is amazing. The connection between them, the hot and sexy times, they are just fabulous. I love that it is hard earned though. Landry needs some time to accept it all. He has loved Justin for years as well, and when he finds out Justin has been keeping this huge secret he is understandably upset. There are some bumps in the road, but eventually they figure it out and when these guys are together they are just amazing. I love that Erickson lets this conflict unfold early on in the book, rather than saving it for the end. We get to see these guys work through their relationship issues and experience the thrill of finally being with the man they have loved in secret for so long. And it then sets things up perfectly for the bigger conflict later in the story, as Justin must face the reality of summer ending and figuring out how he is going to handle the expectations for his future.
While Landry has been out since high school, Justin found himself confused and in denial, especially with his father’s death. He allowed his mother to just herd him along, force him into a path he didn’t want. As a college scholarship athlete, being out as gay seemed impossible, so Justin just hid it all. As an outsider, it almost seems impossible to imagine how Justin plans to just let it all happen for the rest of his life, but in the context of the story it is so easy to see how he has gotten caught in what seems to him like an impossible trap. These guys are only 22, they are just out of college and still figuring things out. Erickson does a great job of showing them making mistakes and working through them. It is so lovely watching them not only grow as a couple, but to see Justin find himself as well. As much as this is a romance (and the romance is a major part of this book), it is also a story of Justin finding himself. All these things — the road trip, the honoring of his father, the relationship with Landry — they all serve to change him in profound ways over those few months. It is really exhilarating at the end of the book to see how far he has come, to see how profoundly he has grown and changed.
So yes, I loved everything about this book. It just blew me away. Romantic and funny, with wonderful characters who grow and learn over the course of the book. I adored Landry and Justin and thrilled as they built their romantic relationship. You can tell from the start how much they are meant to be together and it is just so rewarding watching it work out. Just fabulous all around and very highly recommended.
Cover Review: Gah! And I love the cover too. Not just gorgeous, but I love the play on the camera focus, as well as how these guys just capture Landry and Justin. Just lovely.